Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Proper Channels

I thought I was doing a good thing, but this just goes to show how out of the loop I really am. Why didn’t I remember that to do anything within any organization requires paper and signatures and a whole lot more clout than I have?

So I’ve been working in the ARC library for a few months now. Laura has done some, Carol W. has done some. The library moved across the hall to a smaller room, leaving several boxes of books in storage and too many outdated and useless books on the shelves. There’s a good number of Filipiniana and historically useful books on planes and seashells and all that good stuff.
But this is a community library, at least that’s how I perceive it. It’s not a research library, so books that haven’t been taken out in years I’ve been pulling off and putting them into the store room, while filtering out duplicates of current authors and thinning out the ranks of the romances and true murder tales.
My work is done. There are two small piles that need to be shelved, but I’ve done the majority to get the library functional again. Theoretically I should be able to go in a couple times a week to reshelve returned books and if I feel like it, organize the kids’ books better. But the point is, all the boxes have been sifted through and what I subjectively deemed of interest to the American public is readily available.
So what about the rest? The stacks in storage? Well, my thought was to sell them at a book sale. This weekend was the ARC Christmas Bazaar and it sounded like a good idea to do it at the same time since folks would be at Seafront anyway. I brought up the idea to the ARC office, they said OK and wouldn’t you know 30 minutes later Virginia Forster (later discovered to be the Embassy curator) showed up to ask what I was doing.
Arise the subject of “value”.
Yes, many of the Filipiniana books as single run publications have a monetary value to them. But more importantly in my opinion is their use value. Currently in the ARC library, they are not cared for but more than that, they aren’t used. And any value that they might have has seriously been depreciated by the stained and mildewed state of these rare books. She said that she didn’t want the books appraised so really my question is, what does it matter what their actual value is then? If they are of use to the Embassy then they need to be moved out of the general circulation and put where those who want them can get to them. Otherwise I feel that they would be better housed in a university somewhere.
It wasn’t just the Filipiniana that was discussed. There are so many ancient children’s books on the shelves that at one point would have been worth a lot of money. But the state they are in is plain terrible. Age, heat, moisture, insects, mold have all taken away much of the monetary value and have reduced these 1950s editions to “just plain old”. While it would be nice to know about the series of Nancy Drews and others, I kept coming back to the thought… who cares? If they are discovered to be of high value, then what? Take them off the shelves so they aren’t used? Sold? What would the money go to? And why bother selling them if kids in the community are borrowing and reading them. And even more, returning them. Ms. Foster was concerned about books disappearing off the shelves. As far as I can see, that’s a given. Especially with how transient our population is, there are bound to be books that end up on home shelves in Pakistan and Ecuador because someone forgot to return it before packout. I don’t think folks are going to be malicious about it, stealing books to sell on ebay. These books have been on the shelves for the past 20 years, that’s not going to change now. What do I know, though. I’m just a volunteer.
So, in trying to get all the books on the shelves in the room half the size of the former library room, there are now these boxes of paperback romances and true serial killer mysteries. There are duplicates of popular current authors. There are textbooks that could keep 20 high school kids very happy. There are two complete sets of outdated encyclopedia sets and too many bound copies of National Geographic magazines to count. I said let’s sell them, let’s donate them, let’s sell them and donate the money, but whatever we do, let’s get them out of storage and let them be used. I wasn’t going to touch the rare books or the kids’ books, just the ones I thought anyone in my shoes would agree with.
I brought it up to ARC, but I didn’t bring it up to the ARC board and I certainly didn’t pass it through the Embassy curator and various Embassy library type officials. My bad. I also didn’t suggest that if a donation was to be made to someone that a big ole ceremony accompany it. I’d love to see Museo Pambata’s roving library get a whole new set of books to share, but if it were me I’d just give it to them quietly and let it be.
That isn’t the way an Embassy is run, even if we’re just talking about the community library. There has to be some sort of program sheet to go with it to make sure that somebody gets the credit and their name in lights. In reality, it's a donated library, where people drop books they don't want adding weight to their HHE. I don't feel it really belongs to anyone but the community (and I have real issues with only ARC members getting to use it, but that's a separate rant) and I don't know why someone in particular has to take credit for it.
I dropped the idea of the book sale once I was informed that Ms. Foster had canceled it anyway. It’s not a battle I needed to fight and certainly not something I needed to rush around to board members to try to work through. The books aren’t going anywhere and if the past is any indication, they won’t be going anywhere for a long time yet. I won’t be here forever either, so I don’t have a strong attachment to the library. I just thought cleaning it up was a good idea and I did have fun doing it.
The only negative thing I’ve come away with? Realizing there’s even more books out there I want to read. Where does anyone find the time?

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