Rural Librarian: October 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

West Virginia: A History by John Alexander Williams

OK, back to some history of West Virginia today.

I am almost finished reading a most excellent book "West Virginia: A History" by John Alexander Williams. This history book is well written and fascinating for a number of reasons.

Williams discusses the colonial nature of West Virginia that has abided since its earliest days as the western frontier of old Virginia. Colonialism is the idea of land, property, and businesses being owned by absentee landlords who take the money out of state. Many in old Virginia grabbed up as much western Virginia land as they could. Even George Washington claimed the best bottom land for himself.

Williams makes much mention of the idea that West Virginia was predicted to be one of the wealthiest states in the colonies because of its rich natural resources and natural beauty. But in reality, this was not to be. West Virginia remains one of the poorest states in the US.

"That such a country so full of the varied treasures of the forest and the mine...should lack inhabitants, or the hum of industry, or the show of wealth is an absurdity in the present and an impossibility in the future." This quote from J. H. Diss Debar shows how wrong he and many others were about the Mountain State.

The challenge of West Virginia geography has made road building here very expensive. The Department of Highways estimates that it takes $1 million dollars per mile of road to create new highways here. The great ridges of the Allegheny Mountains have always served as a natural barrier to business and wealth in WV.

Then there is the idea of the company store. In coal mining and log camp days, workers were indentured servants who had no choice but to spend their pay scrip at the company store. Prices were outrageously inflated and the workers had to pay rent on shacks and shanties owned by the company.

There are suggestions in this book that West Virginia continues to be impoverished by generations of West Virginians waiting for an employer to give them better wages and benefits. Entrepreneurialism is lacking here, and perhaps in the country overall. Instead of relying on a company or wealthy out-of-state patron, West Virginia needs to build its own capital and wealth at home.

West Virginia has also been victimized by wealthy companies that use our labor and export the wealth back to their own home states. During and after prohibition, entrepreneurial moonshiners were shut down by the government. Even today one of the complaints of the wind turbine industry is that our natural resources are being used to create electricity that is being exported to other states.

Reading this book, for me, was very enlightening. As a flatlander and transplant from Maryland, our culture and history is much different from that of West Virginia. "West Virginia: A History" is a must-read for anyone who wants to have a better understanding of where WV came from and where it might go in the future. I also have to say that the writing of Williams is fabulously rich and woven with wonderfully long paragraphs of elucidation. I found myself re-reading whole sentences that I thought were well-crafted and insightful. Consider this wonderful piece about the late, great Senator Byrd:

"Byrd's critics, especially those in the metropolitan Washington area, denounce him as a 'prince of pork' and note the frequency with which his name is chiseled onto the buildings that his largesse makes possible. But it is just as reasonable --given West Virginia's long history of exploitation by non-resident energy corporations and its failure to gain much from the federal defense and aerospace budgets of the Cold War years--to regard Byrd's efforts as reparations, not pork barrel."

We have a copy of this classic West Virginia history book at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV. Come check it out!

Source: Williams, "West Virginia: A History." First published in 1976 by W. W. Norton, this is now reprinted by West Virginia University Press in Morgantown, WV.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Stop Scamming Libraries

Update: July 25, 2017: African American Publications is now Scholars In Print. If you get an unsolicited box of books do not open the box and do not accept it. Just send it back to the Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania address.

It all started in 2009.

The previous Pioneer Memorial Public Library director received a phone call asking if we would accept a donation of a box of books from African American Publications. Since we are a small library with a tiny budget for buying books, we accepted what seemed to be a generous offer.

That's when the phonecalls started. Since 2009, the library has received almost weekly phonecalls demanding over $450 in payment for books that were eventually returned at the library's expense.

And it seems that when AAP heard there was a new library director the phonecalls have begun again as have letters from a fraudulent debt collection company named "R. R. Beach Associates."

So here's what I have done to make sure that African American Publications and R.R. Beach Associates never, ever get to play this con under these existing names.

I contacted the Attorney General of Pennsylvania to file a formal complaint against AAP, as this is where they are allegedly located. Then I contacted the Attorney General of West Virginia since this is where AAP is playing their con game.

In addition, I contacted the Attorney General of Delaware, where the fake debt collection company is allegedly located. For good measure, I contacted the Federal Trade Commission.

But wait, there's more. I researched the domain host of African American Publications as GoDaddy.com, and sent them an email letting them know that the domain they host is primarily engaged in illegal activities.

I am especially disgusted with AAP because I feel they are preying on institutions large and small and leveraging guilt to extort payment. Also, by keeping the money amount under $500, some libraries may break down and pay just to make the phonecalls cease. The under $500 may also relieve them of larger charges if and when they are formally charged with crimes.

It did not take a lot of time to fill out forms and send them in. Now I am waiting for the phonecalls to stop.

I am hoping that by posting this that other small institutions and libraries may learn from my cautionary tale. The bottom line is that during a weak economy even the crooks and the con artists step up their game. But the other side of that is that we all have legal recourse available to us. I hope that if you or someone you know of has been the victim of fraud, conning, or other consumer abuse that you will go out of your way to report them to the proper authorities.

Don't get mad, get even. If you have a complaint against a company or business and need help filing a formal complaint, stop by the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia, and I'll be happy to help you out.

Update: 2/11/15 - Received a phone call from a Dr. Derrick Jones from African American Publications in Philadelphia. This is the same scam company and "Dr. Jones" got an earful from me. I am amazed this scam is still going on.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Run For It in Davis, WV, 2012

So let me tell you about the Run For It event in Davis, West Virginia, last weekend.

I had never participated in The Run For It race before and had never been to the Leaf Peepers Festival, both of which happen on the last weekend of every September to coincide with the beautiful fall leaf colors that last all too briefly.

First of all, it was a beautiful day! In driving from Elkins to Davis I felt as if I was driving through a fall-colored cathedral of leaves. In Canaan Valley, where there is more horizon, you get more perspective to admire the lucious fall landscape.

I parked on a side street in Davis and headed over to the fire station where the Run For It teams were to gather. So, what is the Run For It? Started several years ago by the Tucker Community Foundation the Run For It allows nonprofits, libraries, and other civic organizations the opportunity to form teams that either run a 5k or walk a 2k race. The registration fee is $5 and half of that fee is donated back to the team you register for. You may also make a donation and 100% of that cash goes back to the team organization. The Run For It includes Randolph, Barbour, Preston, Pocahontas, Grant and Mineral counties in West Virginia, and Garrett County, Maryland.

All the teams get one minute on a platform in front of the Davis Fire Hall to make a pitch, shout a cheer, or just to show some demonstration of team spirit. This year, Team Pioneer was coordinated by our indefatiguable board president and team captain, Judy Bucher, who lead us all in a book chant of sorts. We also had big letters that spelled out "READ". We had almost 20 people registered in our team, but you aren't required to attend or run/walk if you don't want to.

I walked the 2k as fast as I could and finished in about 20 minutes. There is some up and down terrain in Davis that makes this race fun and a little challenging. However, there were many competitors and alas, I didn't place in my age class for the walk. There is always next year!

After the race, awards are given out by the TCF for most fundraising, best team effort, fastest time, and best team spirit. From what I have heard, the Run For It event has continued to grow over the years. To me it looked as if there were several hundred people participating in the run and several hundred in the walk as well. At one o'clock they announce the winners at the stage across from the fire house, and I am proud to announce that the Pioneer Memorial Public Library brought home over $10,000! Not bad for a teeny tiny library in Harman, WV, and way to go, Team Pioneer. Let's do it again next year.

After the 2k walk I helped out with the famous and delicious Rotary chicken sale. At the end of the day I came home tired and smelling of wonderful roasted chicken and charcoal. We sold 600 chicken dinners by 3pm or so!

The main purpose of the Tucker Community Foundation's Run For It event is to raise funds and awareness for your cause. I was really impressed with Team Hannah, a team of almost 200 that raises funds in memory of Hannah Friend, a girl who died much too soon. The funds they raise are for young people to go to camp, for field trips and other activities. Team Hannah wore red in honor of Hannah's favorite color and the sheer number of red shirts was impressive.

The Run For It is one of the highlights of the annual Leaf Peeper's Festival. This is a wonderful event that included arts and crafts for sale in the Davis Fire Hall. There were a few dozen vendors selling things like homemade jewelry, wood carvings, paintings, honey, ramp salt, candles, and much more. There were more vendors in the parking lot across from the fire station as well.

The local library, the aptly-named Mountaintop Library had a most excellent book sale with literally hundreds of books that were extremely well organized. I had to resist buying books. Must resist buying books. :-)

The stage across from the fire hall provided a focal point for musical entertainment throughout the day and there were some great performers. There were kids and adults clogging as part of the Mountain State Cloggers, there was an old-time jazz band, and Appalachian Glass demonstrating glassblowing. Several excellent bands performed including the Sugar Foot Stompers, Mason Dixon, and Young Funk Sung. A beer garden was set up to sell local beer of the Mountain State Brewing Company.

There were fun activities for kids too. A bungee ride was set up whereby a couple of kids at a time could jump on a trampouline and bounce really high by being attached to a bungee cord harness. There was also a bouncy room, face painting, and other kid friendly activities.

For me, the best part of the day was watching the interesting people and their dogs! I saw whippets, an Airedale terrier, chihuahuas, golden labs, chocolate labs, a bassett hound, a pit bull or two, and lots of really sweet mutts.

I also had the pleasure of meeting some of the Tucker Community Foundation staff and board members. They told me that the TCF was formed after the devastating 1985 flood as a way to help communities invest in their own philanthropic organizations. What a great way to literally reinvest and rebuild communities after a tragedy. Today, nonprofits are encouraged to build an investment with TCF that earns annual interest.

You can read more about the Run For It here and you can check out the Tucker Community Foundation here. And as always, don't forget to stop by the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV, when you are in our neck of the woods. And maybe I will see you next year at the Run For It and the Leaf Peepers Festival, I know I will be back.