Rural Librarian

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reframing the Civil War - It Was About Slavery

Leighton Hall, Carnforth, England, 1989. Pictured left to right: Captain Tom Foster, Mary Rayme, and Michael L., representatives of the First Confederate Signal Corps of Maryland.

In creating an imaginary curated exhibition for a local history museum, the Beverly Heritage Center, I had an epiphany about how we interpret and present the American Civil War in museums, in reenactments, and in history class. My story starts several decades ago when I was lured into Civil War reenactment by a boyfriend. For a solid year, we attended reenactments in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and even England (see photo above), as part of the First Maryland Confederate Signal Corps. This was a rich and rewarding experience that pushed me headlong into history in a way that I will never forget. (If you want a more in-depth look at the subculture of reenacting, read "Confederates in the Attic" by Anthony Horowitz.)

U.S. Civil War Reenactment

So, what did we do at Civil War reenactments? We wore wool, we practiced semaphore (a binary language communicated with flags), we drilled, and marched. The highlight of most of the reenactments was, of course, the battle. The battles and skirmishes were usually very carefully discussed and considered by fake generals on horseback and other chosen leaders of the various factions attending. Thousands of spectators would turn out to watch the battle and walk among the campgrounds, eager to feel as if they had just stepped back in time. Hundreds of reenactors invested their own money to have authentic uniforms handmade, to buy authentic cotton duck tents, to bring functional artillery and horses to a fake battle that recreated a war resolved on paper in 1865. I met men and women from all over the world who had come to participate or observe. The only African Americans I ever met were dressed in Union uniforms or they portrayed freed African Americans. I never met a Civil War reenactor who dressed up and pretended that they were a slave. In fact, at many reenactments there was a lack of participants that wanted to dress as Union soldiers. Sometimes, there were coin tosses to decide about splitting up sides so that it appeared there was equal participation from Confederates and Federal troops. No lie, most reenactors at the events we attended wanted to be Confederates. Self included. For me, this was an act of historically portraying my ancestors who fought for the South as Virginians and North Carolinians. This was not an act of feeling any sympathy for the South at all. Slavery is a despicable institution and any supporters of slavery need to be eliminated and abolished.

The Beverly Heritage Center

Years later, I worked at the Beverly Heritage Center (as coordinator of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike) for about six years and was involved in the creation of this awesome museum from historic rehabilitation of the buildings to the creation and design of the exhibitions. The museum has one whole building dedicated to interpreting the Battle of Rich Mountain, one of the first land battles of the American Civil War, part of the First Campaign. In what was then still part of old Virginia, the town of Beverly (like many WV towns) was traded back and forth by Union and Confederate troops, though Beverly's sympathies lay largely with the Union. The exhibition at Beverly celebrates the leaders and troops that fought (on both sides) and the strategies employed to create a win for the Union troops. (If you would like more information about the American Civil War in Western Virginia, I recommend Hunter Lesser's wonderful book "Rebels at the Gate.")

Slave quarters behind the Beverly Heritage Center. Photo by Mary Rayme.

So, fast forward to 2015. I am taking a Museum Studies class as one of my last courses of graduate school via the University of Tennessee. One of our assignments is to curate an imaginary exhibition at a museum of our choice. The project I chose was to create a picture of the African Americans, both enslaved and free, who once lived in Beverly, WV, and who helped to build this frontier town. I put together an imaginary exhibition that includes:

* The old slave quarters behind the Beverly Heritage Center

* The Randolph County Historical Society building that was built by slave labor.

* To cross the road between museums, visitors have to use Route 219, once known as the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. This historic road was also used by runaway slaves seeking freedom across the Ohio River in Parkersburg to Marietta, Ohio, an abolitionist community. So part of the Underground Railroad is a piece of the exhibition that will have signage and interpretation.

* Finally, there is a section of Beverly Cemetery that is unmarked where slaves were buried. While this area is too far away for foot traffic, it should be photographed with appropriate signage for full effect.

It is clear from the evidence that exists that African Americans played an important role in building the town of Beverly.

My Civil War Education Epiphany

My big epiphany in planning this imaginary exhibition of the life of African Americans in Beverly, WV, made me realize that we may be teaching Civil War history all wrong. Like, super wrong.

In the exhibitions that we carefully and lovingly created for the Civil War we celebrate the warriors, troops, and generals who fought the Civil War. We talk about the townsfolk, merchants, and farmers. We admire their uniforms, buttons, powder horns, and rifles. We forgot to teach (thoroughly) why we fought the Civil War. We neglected to celebrate the people the North was fighting to free--African Americans. What was it like in early Beverly with freed African Americans and enslaved African Americans living in the same town? Perhaps if Civil War museums focused more on the horrors of slavery and the struggles of African Americans to be treated as equals, maybe we would have less racism overall?

Maybe all Civil War museums should debunk/expand/elucidate the history of the Confederate flag at every exhibition? Original documents such as the Declaration of Causes of Seceding States will be provided to reinforce that slavery was the driving issue of the Civil War. Even in contemporary culture, the issue of slavery has been sidelined in favor of generals and wars. We have had many excellent films about the Civil War, (Andersonville, Cold Mountain, Glory, Gettysburg, Gods & Generals), but not a single film about Harriet Tubman the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. Many Civil War exhibits may talk about the issue of slavery, but it is glossed over quickly-- no need to dwell on an unpleasant topic, right?. Wrong. We have chosen to celebrate soldiers over those whose lives and existence were in the hands of their owners and/or other white people. While soldiers fought the war from 1861-1865, slaves lived a life at war. We have chosen to celebrate war waged (mostly) by white people, rather than really taking the time to spiritually weigh and acknowledge our debt to African Americans.

Imagining a Better Way to Teach the Civil War

Imagine it this way: In Gettysburg where every state that participated in the American Civil War raised money to buy monuments to the troops who fought there, what if every state cooperated to create a National Slavery Memorial? What if there was one created in Washington D.C. on the Mall? This idea was proposed in 2003 but never came to fruition. America is clearly not ready to acknowledge the past so that it can move forward into the future with less racism and more tolerance. The Equal Justice Initiative has suggested a national monument system to tag and acknowledge places where African Americans were lynched. I think this is a great start. Americans, and particularly white Americans, need to be reminded that the riches they enjoy today as part of a peaceful and prosperous country came at a very high price. Slaves lived and died to build the United States and they deserve to be acknowledged. Just like the Holocaust, this is an event in history that should not be forgotten.

And what about the after effects of the Civil War on African Americans in Beverly? In the early 1800's there were African Americans, both freed and enslaved, in Beverly, West Virginia. We have evidence of their labor, we know where they lived, we know generally where they are buried. What we don't know is where they went. Today, Beverly is 98% white. In the border town of Beverly, WV, that had split loyalties between North and South, most African Americans likely left for locations where they could thrive and prosper.

Harriet Tubman c. 1885, courtesy of Wikimedia.

More Harriet, Less Ulysses

There is the old cliche that the victors get to write the history and that is certainly the case when we teach and interpret the United States Civil War. While education systems, historians, or media outlets may feign neutrality in talking about the Civil War, there is no way to present history without a bias. Let us consider changing the emphasis in how we teach the Civil War. I say, let's teach more Harriet Tubman and less Grant and Lee-- after all, John Brown called her General Tubman.

You may check out my slideshow presentation that I delivered for Museum Studies course here-- it is entitled "Who Built Beverly?"

Thursday, July 30, 2015

CARE For Africa - A Fraudulent Nonprofit

As I search for jobs online, another fraudulent company has presented itself to me, and this is a fake charity. I answered an ad on Craigslist for a telephone fundraiser and received an immediate job offer from CARE for Africa. They also included their script, the quality of which was a dead giveaway on their scam-iness and lack of professionalism. The offer of a job without a contract was also a giveaway. CARE For Africa has a slick looking site, but if you dig deeper you will find the flaws that give them away. This is what a fake nonprofit looks like.

CARE For Africa - Scam

I have to give Care For Africa some major scam points. First, CARE sounds familiar, doesn't it? There is a real organization called C.A.R.E. (also headquartered in Virginia) that does great work all over the world. CARE For Africa is not related to C.A.R.E. in any way. The Africa part-- who doesn't worry for Africa? The photos on the website are of beautiful black children that tug at the heart strings. They get sympathy points for pulling 'Africa' and 'CARE' into their moniker. But alas, this is a scam company that does not legitimately exist.

How to Report a Fake Nonprofit

The sad part is that it's really hard to report a fraudulent nonprofit. I spent hours on the phone with the Virginia Attorney General's office. They were not interested. Again, how do you question and handcuff a fraudulent online entity? When you try to report or destroy a fake online company or nonprofit, it is so easy for the scammers to tweak a page or two, change their name, and to morph into a new fraudulent company. Today's CARE For Africa could turn into Project Smile Africa or Africa United Way.

Tell-Tale Signs of Internet Fraud

Why is CARE For Africa fraudulent?

* First, if you examine their website there are no personal names attached to this website. No proud resumes, no professional administrators. Just a slick site that pulls our sympathy strings using pictures of African children. The lack of specifics anywhere on the site is a huge red flag.

* CARE for Africa lists two addresses on their site, both of which are to townhouses in Virginia. (You can check it out on Google Maps.) If CARE For Africa was a real nonprofit I would expect to see an office in a corporate park or in a commercial area. Nope, just residential townhouses.

* Additionally, the social media icons for FaceBook and Twitter take you nowhere-- these are dead links. CARE For Africa doesn't have a social media presence because they are a fraudulent nonprofit.

* Because CARE For Africa says they are a nonprofit, I can look up CARE for Africa on and see that they are not registered as a nonprofit entity. This clinches my conclusion that they are totally fraudulent. Real nonprofit organizations have 990 tax forms available for public view on Guide Star.

Small Time Fraud - Free Pass

As a last resort of trying to get CARE for Africa offline, I contacted the real C.A.R.E. to let them know that a fake nonprofit was using their name. You would think that they would care about policing their brand but I received no response. Again, an online organization is difficult to take down, especially since I didn't lose a dime to them. I have done as much as I can to report CARE For Africa as a fake and fraudulent nonprofit but have had zero impact. This blog post is my last resort. Don't give money or work for a fake organization. Take time to research who you decide which nonprofit organizations are real and which, like CARE For Africa, are totally fake.

Update: August 29, 2015: I was contacted by an independent law firm that represents CARE, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP. They are looking into the use of the CARE name by this fake nonprofit. Perhaps there is movement to eliminate this site? We shall see....

Little Scams Online - How To Determine Internet Fraud

I have been looking for jobs online. I have done this for years and have found some great jobs that have paid the bills However, I have also found some fraudulent sites on the Internet. (Not so shocking, right?) I have tried to go out of my way to report these scams to the proper authorities but you can't police the Internet. It is Too Big and too amorphous to put handcuffs on it. That's why you have to vigilant in whom you choose to work with.

First, you should never have to pay any money up front to be hired for a job. A red flag should go off if anyone, especially an alleged potential employer, asks you for money. Which brings us to Hire Talent. They have been online for a long time and they are not going away. But they are a completely fraudulent company. How can you identify a fraudulent company online? Let's go through the steps.

Hire Talent is Fraudulent

First, Hire Talent contacted me out of the blue. I have uploaded my resume around and they found my email online. A persona named Jim Taubert wanted to hire me but I would need to send Hire Talent $65 up front for my training. That is a huge red flag that took me to their fake website. Let's look at it...

If you Google Hire Talent, there are a bunch of other sites that sound like or look like Hire Talent-- they are smart to hide among reputable companies with similar names. The logo of Hire Talent is old looking and pixilated, this screams of amateurism. Any successful company has a professional logo created by a designer. They say they have been in "Human Capital Consulting Since 2008." Sorry, according to Alexa, this website has only existed for a few months. If you search on on who owns the domain, this information is private, another red flag. The generic stock photos of people on their website, another red flag. Look at the very brief biographies of the employees...Jim Taubert, Brandon Daniels, Jonathan Welle, and Susan Applen. These people do not exist and their vague bios show hastily drawn sketches. "Mr. Welle brings over 20 years of client relations and support experience to Hire Talent." Mr. Welle is so successful that he has no LinkedIn page? These are all clues that Hire Talent is totally fake and a fraudulent website.

I tried many ways to report Hire Talent to no avail. Their website says they are located in Minnesota, but who knows where they are really located. This fake and fraudulent company showed their cards when they sent me several PayPal requests for the $65 training fee. The email came from When I Google Melissa Sarna, I can see another red flag of fraud. Whomever Melissa Sarna is, her name has been attached to frauds for a very long time. Google her name with the word 'scam' and you will see what I mean. I have contacted PayPal regarding this and they have done nothing. I have also reported Hire Talent to the Internet Crime Complaint Center to no avail. I could contact the Attorney General of Minnesota, but all Hire Talent has to do is change their skyline photo and their address. These guys at Hire Talent are so small that they fly under the radar of most law enforcement. While they are stealing money from people, at less than $100 per theft most law enforcement does not have the time or resources to really investigate. Hire Talent is just a pack of petty thieves.

Job Seekers Beware

Sadly, the Internet is still very much like the high seas-- too big to police and full of pirates. That is why you have to be careful and extra vigilant at all times when doing business online. There are lots of sharks in the water, don't forget your shark repellent. Bring your critical thinking skills to any online venture. When you are hired online, make sure there is a contract that both parties sign. Make sure you dig around in to who runs the company. If you can't find information, be wary. There are lots of job scammers out there, like Hire Talent, phony and fraudulent websites who would love to take your money and run.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Mount Everest as Metaphor: Respect the Goddess

I have always been an avid student of subcultures - small, but passionate groups of people who pursue a single-minded interest. In the past few years I have enjoyed reading books and watching documentary films about the people who are obsessed with climbing Mount Everest. The culture of Mount Everest may also be viewed as a mirror microcosm of the paradigm shift in our economy - the very rich completely rule over everyone else and have little regard for the safety or success of the lower classes. Mount Everest brings the wealthiest climbers from Western culture to be served by the very poor Nepalese climbers who make very little per year and have no health or life insurance.

Mount Everest is a Goddess

Westerners view Mount Everest as the highest point on our Planet Earth. They want to climb it and to reach the summit for bragging rights and to conquer the world. The Nepalese have a very different view of Mount Everest, a mountain that they call Sagarmatha, the Tibetans call it Chomolungma which translates to Goddess Mother of the Land. The people who are native to this region regard the mountain as a goddess. The Tibetan prayer flags that are ubiquitous in all Mount Everest photos are prayers to the gods and goddesses carried on the winds that inhabit these high altitudes. The native peoples who help wealthy Westerners climb this mountain feel that proper prayers and respect must be paid to the mountain to ensure a safe season. But in the past two years, it seems the goddess is not pleased.

Hillary Helped the Himalayas

In 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary were the first humans that we know of to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Both men refused to say who summited first, in true gentlemanly form, and Hillary spent much of his wealth giving back to the community at the bottom of Mount Everest. The Himalayan Trust was established in 1960 to establish schools and hospitals for this rural and underserved population. Sir Edmund Hillary was a class act who respected the people who aided him up the mountain.

The Poor Serve the Wealthy

The Tibetan Sherpa people have lived at high altitudes for so long that their bodies have evolved to be able to survive at higher elevations than most without oxygen. This makes them well-suited to carry heavy packs for us flatlander Westerners. These Sherpas can make up to $8,000 in the three-month climbing period every year that brings climbers to conquer Everest. While that may be a lot of money for this part of the world, if a Sherpa dies on the mountain there is no life insurance for families left behind, no retirement plan, and no medical insurance for injuries sustained on the job.

Avalanches on Everest

In the past two years, two powerful avalanches on Mount Everest have claimed lives and altered the geography of the most coveted mountain. In April 2014, a powerful avalanche killed 16 Nepalese guides who are referred to by most as Sherpa. It was during the 2014 that a climber was hoping to be the first to wingsuit fly off of Mount Everest. It's part of the reason the Discovery channel was there to record the avalanche in 2014. April 25, 2015--a 7.8 earthquake rocks Tibet and causes another avalanche on Mount Everest claims the lives of 19 would be climbers, including Google icon Dan Fredinburg. The death toll in Tibet at this writing is approximately 6,300.

The Cost of Climbing Everest

While the news media loves to cover the tragedies of lost lives on Mount Everest, what is more difficult to explain to people is the cost of climbing this sacred mountain. The license fee (which goes to the Nepalese government) is $11,000 per person. Nepalese climbers pay $750 per person. Most online guides quote a cost of between $30,000-100,000 per person to climb Mount Everest. And if you know all the perks, that's a great price. The Sherpas are the people who carry Everything for you. They have the tents set up for you at the various base camps. They carry your oxygen. They make tea for you and bring it to your tent. Ladders and guide ropes are already set in place for you by Sherpas and others who have come before you. If there are broken ladders or guide ropes, the Sherpa will replace them. All you have to do is haul your body up the mountain if you are able.

The Goddess is Angry

Some might say that the avalanches on Mount Everest are the product of global warming. I would like to suggest that The Goddess is angry. The people who live here and who enable wealthy Westerners to reach the top still live mostly in poverty and with few opportunities for success. The mountain is full of dead bodies, empty oxygen tanks, and frozen feces and urine. Wealthy Westerners may party at the top of Mount Everest while the underclass who made it possible still live in poverty. I will also suggest that it is arrogant and presumptuous to think that you can wingsuit fly off the top of Mount Everest and survive. It is disrespectful to the goddess and she deserves better. It is time to clean up the mountain and re-think the whole climbing process. How can a better system be set up so that the symbiotic relationship between Western climbers and native people can be more profitable for the Sherpa? Sir Edmund Hillary had the right idea by building schools and hospitals but there is still more work to do. The great goddess, Mother of the Land, deserves better, and people need to respect the planet as a whole.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ethics in Rural Libraries: A Cautionary Tale from West Virginia

Please note: The below is the opinion of this writer.

Mission statement of the West Virginia Library Commission:

“The West Virginia Library Commission encourages lifelong learning, individual empowerment, civic engagement and an enriched quality of life by enhancing library and information services for all West Virginians.”

West Virginia libraries are currently ruled by administrators more eager to maintain the status quo than to train or prepare small, rural libraries and librarians for the future. This is a cautionary tale of poor library ethics and the problem with the state library commission model in West Virginia. I hope you will take a few moments to read my story.

Rural Librarian

I started as director of the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia in July 2012. This small, rural library has a service population of 2,323 and a budget of about $35,000 per year. I loved this little library and immediately started making preparations to improve upon the amazing work that had been accomplished there since its founding in 1985. I started this blog as a way of reaching out to the local and larger community.

I also realized that I loved library work. I had worked at other libraries decades earlier, and coming back into a library environment reminded me how much I love a life surrounded by books and people. I sought out and applied for an Information Technology for Rural Librarians II grant via the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. In March 2013, I was notified that I was a lucky grant recipient, and I received a full-ride scholarship to pursue my Master of Information Sciences degree.

My Horrible Car Crash

Later that same month while driving to work I was the victim of a reckless driver. I was hit head on at high speed by another driver who had crossed the center line on a mountainous and curvy road. I was flown to Ruby Hospital in Morgantown where I spent two days in ICU, two more days in the general hospital, and four full months at home recovering from my horrible and painful injuries. When I had at last recovered and returned back to work, I was re-energized and passionate about serving my library, my patrons, and my community and completing my degree program. Many of my assignments focused on research statistics about my library and others available via the West Virginia Library Commission (WVLC).

Library Bullying in West Virginia

Now, all libraries in West Virginia that do not have a professional librarian need to have a service center. Our service center is the Upshur County Public Library (UCPL) in Buckhannon, West Virginia. I noticed that our service center was not supportive of me, a (mostly) solo librarian, in rural West Virginia. Instead of providing training or support, the director and business manager at this library started sending me threats of having our Grant In Aid money withheld if I did not supply board meeting minutes, board meeting dates, or board meeting attachments. These are minor infractions, and I was really thrown off by this not-so-subtle bullying and dismayed that I was not offered support, training, or encouragement.

At every library conference (and there are two each year) there were speakers from out of state who talked about the professional librarian shortage in West Virginia. This problem is also highlighted in "Creating a State of Learners,” West Virginia’s Library Services and Technology Act Five-Year Strategic Plan (LSTA), 2013-2017. Here is a quote:

"The key word for West Virginia libraries is education. West Virginia is among the lowest nationally in the number of MLS-degreed librarians employed per capita, with approximately 99 professional librarians in the state. Steps have been taken in recent years to improve the educational level of librarians, but there is still is critical shortage of both trained professional and paraprofessional workers. One reason for this fact is, according to many surveyed, that there are no set training criteria for West Virginia’s library workers. While numerous continuing education opportunities abound for both professional and non-professional staff, many libraries take advantage of no more than what is necessary to meet state regulations concerning grants-in-aid."

School of Information Sciences - UTK

My classes at the University of Tennessee taught me about new library technologies. After years of studying the library system in West Virginia I could see many opportunities for improvement and started making suggestions and offering constructive criticism. I could not get the person in charge of inter-library loans at the West Virginia Library Commission to return my phone calls or emails. The WVLC allegedly has a whole library set up to support librarians who are pursuing a degree, but I ended up buying my own textbooks every time. The one book I received from the WVLC took two phone calls and a couple of emails to receive it...late. I also studied the annual reports of the WVLC. Did you know they have an active library on site? It costs millions to operate but I have information from a reliable former inside source that their circulation numbers are less than that of the Pioneer Library, a rural WV library with about 11,000 items. You will not find the circulation statistics in any of the WVLC reports. (Or, if you do, you are a better researcher than I am...) While the WVLC board members, or commissioners, are state representatives appointed by Governor Tomblin, I could not find their contact information on the WVLC site.

The Northern Library Network (NORLN) holds a crowded meeting in Clarksburg every year where little is heard or accomplished. I suggested that the WVLC could save rural libraries a ton of money by recording the meeting (with a handheld digital camera) and uploading it to the Internet. This suggestion was met with incredulity. Many times when I contacted WVLC Secretary Karen Goff to ask her questions, her response was, "You are the first person to ever ask that." If you look at the NORLN website, it hasn't been updated since 2010 and no one really knows who the officers are unless you ask around. Minutes for these meetings have not circulated since 2012.

Disrespectful Library Colleagues

I knew I was making waves, but I also hoped that I was quietly sowing some seeds of change for the better for West Virginia Libraries. Instead, I believe I was singled out for and bullied by our alleged service center, and that this treatment was sanctioned from the top down. The reason I say this is because I complained to WVLC’s Goff about the attitude and behavior of my service center. I begged for politeness, better customer service, and started tacking a quote from the American Library Association's Professional Code of Ethics as a signature onto the end of my emails: "We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith." Goff replied by saying the UCPL was doing the best it could and defending it.

While I was at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library I served as the state representative for the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (2015) and the chair of the West Virginia Library Association Director's Round Table, I presented new ideas for creative fundraising at the local and national level, I brought new fundraising ideas to the library, and I enjoyed some of the best library patrons one can imagine, a small but loyal following of library lovers who made my job delightful and challenging. I also received a grant from the Laura Bush Foundation for $5,000 to buy all new Juvenile Biographies for the kids next door at Harman School, one of the few pre-K-12th grade public schools left in the country. The best part of my job will never get a line on my resume: helping people write resumes, find jobs, and file for government services and having awesome conversations about everything and anything.

Library Ethics and Intellectual Freedom

Fast forward to about five weeks ago. My library board president received a phone call at her house from Karen Goff, who complained about me. Goff accused me of being unprofessional and confrontational. She also accused me of "compromising the reputation of the library." This was the part I found most disturbing. As a library that receives state funding through the WVLC, I perceived this as a veiled threat to withhold funding. This was exactly what the UCPL, our alleged service center, was also saying. The Pioneer Library has many rules and reports to abide by to maintain funding, and as former library director I can say that we met all of those requirements regularly. A vague threat of "compromising the reputation" reminded me of excuses that companies might use to squeeze out women, minorities, and other workers formerly perceived as socially undesirable. I felt marginalized and sad that the head of all libraries in West Virginia had been keeping a list of perceived inaccuracies and offenses going back for many months. Karen Goff not only had been keeping track of errors in my blog but had monitored things I wrote on the listserv for the American Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL). When I posted questions on the NORLN listserv, the library director and officer manager at UCPL told me to ask them first so "they don't appear unhelpful."

To protect my library and to protest a West Virginia Library Commission that in my opinion is not serving its rural libraries, I resigned my much-loved position as director and gave the requested four-week notice. My board and my patrons did not want me to resign, but my board asked me to "write a plan" to improve upon my lack of professionalism. I was deeply offended by this request since I didn't agree that I had shown a lack of professionalism, and this is another reason I resigned. But I don't blame my board. The WVLC provides the library with more than $11,000 per year, and the threat of losing this funding—representing one-third of our annual budget—is powerful. While it is not illegal to issue a veiled threat of withholding funding, I suggest that it is deeply unethical, especially in a profession that alleges to value intellectual freedom. This whole sad episode has made it clear to me that the WVLC, the Upshur County Public Library, and others are more interested in maintaining control and appearances and less interested in promoting and supporting West Virginia libraries and rural librarians.

Petty and Defensive Library Commission

My purpose in writing this is to expose a West Virginia Library Commission that seems to willfully embrace remaining in the 20th century and be bent on repressing passionate and professional librarians. Why did it take three years for me to be trained as a Level Two cataloger? Why does the head of all the libraries in West Virginia feel the need to bully and harass a rural librarian who made less than $15,000 per year with no benefits? Why can't the WVLC digitally record and upload training sessions? Why does the WVLC have an entire television studio (an outdated mode of communication for professionals) that only broadcasts in half of West Virginia's counties? Why can't the TV studio record and upload training sessions? (And, for the record, from July 2014 to April 2015 I worked 28 hours per week and was part-time. While this IS a violation of WVLC rules, I don't think my board president revealed this for fear of losing Grant In Aid funding from the state.) It is sad to me that libraries in WV are more worried about losing funding and appearances than in having well-trained and professional staff.

If libraries all over the country were not in trouble financially, none of this would matter. If the Institute of Museum and Library Services is in danger of being eliminated (something proposed by the US House earlier this year), all libraries nationwide are in trouble. But the bottom line is that library funding is a national crisis. As a young librarian with lots of technology and entrepreneurial experience, I wanted to bring corporate funding to West Virginia Libraries. In fact, Karen Goff invited me to present my ideas at a panel discussion last fall at the WVLA conference. I showed a NORLN library card that was co-branded with the Subaru logo and had done extensive research on the energy companies that own much of the state. Wouldn't it be great if WV libraries had substantial corporate sponsorship and didn't have to rely on donations and funding from legislators? Many libraries in the country already do this, so while my ideas are new to West Virginia, they are not new nationally. Without a centralized website that is regularly maintained, West Virginia libraries have little advertising clout.

The Bottom Line

I think I would also not be so upset and disgruntled if I hadn’t had a taste of what it is like to be supported from the top down in West Virginia. The previous Library Development Director, JP Myrick, was my "Cheerleader in Charleston." This dedicated and devoted library professional chastised my service library when it became hostile and unhelpful. Mr. Myrick acknowledged and was supportive of me pursuing my Master of Information Sciences degree. (Sadly, Mr. Myrick is no longer with the WVLC.) Karen Hiser, a previous administrator at the West Virginia Library Commission, visited my library and gave me such quiet and warm support. "How dedicated," she said, when I told her about my accident and how determined I was to return to work. Karen and JP and my wonderful UTK cohort and professors gave me lots of encouragement and advice that I will carry with me into my future library career. Today I filed the paperwork for my impending comps and graduation in the Summer of 2015 from the University of Tennessee.

The bottom line is this: I have come to regard myself as a fairly average human being. If I am having this experience in a small rural library, there must be others all over the country experiencing the same unnecessary drama that comes from lack of funding and leadership. (I'm sure the same politics play out behind the scenes in wealthy library regions as well, but my theory is that when there is less funding to go around there is more competition and less collaboration.) And because a powerful library administrator does not approve of me, I may be blacklisted from working in West Virginia public libraries as long as she remains. While I may not have a lot of recourse, I do have a voice—this blog—and the ability to put together some solid paragraphs driven by a love for libraries, knowledge, information, and intellectual freedom. If you have been the victim of a library system that is more interested in recording perceived infractions than in providing training and leadership, send me an email. I would love to hear from you. And remember, you are not alone. Eventually new ideas and new technology will prevail. But in the meantime, the war of Old Library versus New Library will continue in the sparsely-populated states that have less oversight for these smaller state agencies. While the battle is lost, the war is not over yet. Also, I have realized that even though I don't have a library, I am still a librarian.

A Sad Side Note

Another sad side note: Just before I left my position as director at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library, I learned that I was a grant finalist for the very competitive $35,000 Knight Foundation Grant to have a television whitespaces infrastructure set up in Harman, WV. This is a bandwidth technology that I have blogged about that has huge potential to keep small, rural communities connected in case of natural or man-made disasters. (After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Harman area was without electricity for 12+ days, and libraries are now considered second responders by FEMA.) This grant could have provided free wifi for the entire town of Harman, including Harman School, the Harman Fire Department, and the Harman Senior Center. Because I am no longer library director, I am no longer a contender for this grant.

My final p.s., I promise. I will confess one breach in my professionalism that was completely naive on my part. One day a few months ago, after a volley of emails back and forth with Karen Goff, I felt I could sense her annoyance with me. Her replies to me were becoming more terse. So I signed my final email to her that day with my name and the title The World's Most Annoying Librarian. I think I may have even added a Super Unprofessional smiley-face emoticon. My greatest sin in this whole interaction was assuming a sense of humor on the part of the recipient. This was one of the examples that Goff reported to my board president as an example of my unprofessionalism.

April 20, 2015, An Update: I just heard from a reliable source that my former library board president who fielded the phonecall complaint about me is now director of the same library. I'm sure she had to get special permission from Karen Goff and I am quite sure Ms. Goff gave it to her. That, in my opinion, is a library coup d'etat and makes this cautionary tale even more ironic and poignant.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Library Hero, Administrative Villain: J. Edgar Hoover

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Most people remember J. Edgar Hoover as the first head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who kept extensive information and files on people whom he disliked, distrusted, or who caught his attention in negative way. But did you know that before J. Edgar Hoover became a top law enforcer he was an information sciences professional, a librarian?

J. Edgar, the Movie

As a graduate student in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee, a professor who was introducing themselves and pitching their class talked about the film "J. Edgar." Released in 2011, this movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover showed the evolution of this controversial man from humble librarian to head of the FBI.

J. Edgar the Cataloger

John Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) was born and spent his entire life in Washington, D.C. His first job at age 18 was as a messenger at the Library of Congress (LOC). Hoover also worked in the cataloging department. Later in 1951, Hoover wrote in a letter, “[T]his job …trained me in the value of collating material. It gave me an excellent foundation for my work in the FBI where it has been necessary to collate information and evidence.” In excellent homage to Hoover and the Library of Congress there were some scenes for the film "J. Edgar" shot on location in the LOC.

J. Edgar Hoover, 1940 Census Clues

Just for fun, I looked at the 1940 United States Census to see if there was any information of interest there that would give a snapshot into who he was. According to that document, J. Edgar Hoover lived at 413 Seward Square in Washington D.C., age 45, single, and living alone. Perhaps the most interesting fact on this page is:

"Weeks Worked in 1939: 52"

"Hours Worked Week Prior to Census: 99"

I did a researcher double-take when I saw the number of hours that Hoover says he worked in the previous week. I went and looked at the handwritten document to find that '105' was recorded, crossed out, and replaced with '99.' So J. Edgar didn't take vacations and if he worked seven days a week he worked fourteen hours per day. Hoover was a workaholic. It is also interesting to note that J. Edgar Hoover lived in the same house his entire life.

Empire of Information Evil

If Hoover had remained at the Library of Congress the world might be a very different place. While Hoover excelled at collecting, codifying, and storing data, he used his information skills for evil. Hoover was a petty, malicious, controlling person with an unhealthy dose of paranoia, as many people may be who have dark secrets to hide. The full legacy of J. Edgar Hoover may never fully be known as his faithful secretary, Helen Gandy (pictured below), spent weeks destroying Hoover's personal files that he is said to have used to blackmail politicians, police, players, and Presidents.

Note: All photographs courtesy the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Famous Librarian Writers

The famous folks below were at one time librarians but became famous for other reasons. While Beverly Cleary and Andre Norton were professional librarians, others, (such as Proust) dabbled in the library sciences.

Ben Franklin (1706-1790)

Author, printer, inventor, diplomat, postmaster, scientist, and activist, it's hard to pigeon-hole Franklin into one category.In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and at the age of 21, Franklin started a subscription-based library where members pooled cash to buy and read books.

Photo: Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis (1725-1802), c. 1785, oil on canvas, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Madeline L'Engle (1918-2007)

American writer Madeline L'Engle is best known for writing the classic young adult novel "A Wrinkle in Time" (1962), she also served as a volunteer librarian at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City in 1965.

Photo: Courtesy of Square Fish Books.

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)

In 1913, painter, writer, and artist Marcel Duchamp took a position as librarian at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, France, where he also studied physics and math.

Photo: Marcel Duchamp playing chess (photo by Kay Bell Reynal, 1952)

Beverly Cleary (1916-)

Children's book writer Beverly Cleary graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle with a library degree in 1939. Some of Cleary's books include "Beezus and Ramona"(1955), "Ribsy" (1964), and "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" (1965).

Photo: Photo of Beverly Cleary, State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,

Hypatia (b. circa 350-370 - 415)

"There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more." ~ Socrates Scholasticus, from his Ecclesiastical History

Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. An actress, possibly Mary Anderson, in the title role of the play Hypatia, circa 1900.

Lao Tsu (b. circa 571 BCE - Zhou Dynasty)

This philosopher and poet of ancient China, Lao Tsu is said to have held a position as scholar in the Imperial Archives. The most famous work most often attributed to Lao Tsu is the Tao Te Ching.

Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. A painting of the Daode Tianzun ('the Heavenly Lord of Dao and its Virtue'), the deified Laozi, one of the supreme divinities of Daoism.

Andre Norton (1912-2005)

Born Alice Mary Norton in Cleveland, Ohio, she went on to become a highly successful science fiction writer. But before she became a famous, award-winning author, she worked in the Cleveland Library System for 18 years. During World War II and from 1940-41, Norton worked as a special librarian in the cataloging department of the Library of Congress.

Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Cover of Voodoo Planet by Andrew North, artist Ed Valigursky; half of Ace Double #D-345 (1959)

Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

While many consider French writer Marcel Proust to be one of the greatest authors in the history of literature, he was a terrible librarian. An asthma sufferer who appears to have been coddled by wealthy parents, Proust secured a volunteer position at the Bibliotheque Mazarine in 1896 and then went on sick leave without ever having worked a day. Oh, Proust. How adorable, frustrating, and funny.

Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Marcel Proust in 1900.

It is interesting and strange to me that there are not more famous writers who were once librarians as librarians may have access to the best books and resources. Great readers make great writers, but not all librarians, it seems, are great writers. Alas.