Sunday, September 30, 2018

Afternoon in America

Today I am in America. The TV in the room is about six feet across and we are having an oil change for our leased Honda, along with a variety of inspections I don't understand so that it can cost more money. It is hard to write this post because there is a very distracting show on that TV about a couple who are trying to choose between buying three houses.

TV sucks.

After watching the show for 20 minutes we're now onto a new couple moving to Colchester England and choosing between three houses there.

TV sucks. TV has always sucked. But I am getting this weird, faintly disturbing feeling that it is a lot more entertaining than the Internet.

Don't you wish you were there now?

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The wounds of children

Yesterday evening at the library small children were eager to show me their injuries.

I was registering a man for a library card while he was holding his two year old daughter. Somehow her hurt toe came into the discussion. Last week, apparently, something fell on it. At this point the child vigorously insisted on being set down, whereupon she promptly removed her left shoe and had her father place her on my desk so that she could show me her black big toenail. We all agreed her nail was almost certainly going to fall off, a prospect that seemed to especially appeal to the small child.

I was also in conversation with the slightly older son, maybe 3 or 4, of one of my co-workers. He had come for his regular weekly visit. With absolute relish he told me about how he had fallen down. Then he carefully pointed out all his injuries: both of his knees, his head, and his two palms. To be honest I couldn't see anything anywhere. So I told him about when I was his age I hit my head on a wall and had to get stitches. Then I took off my hat, leaned down, and showed him the scar at the top of my forehead which has probably been invisible now for thirty years. This reminded the young lad of two unspecified bumps on the top of his head which he demonstrated to me with much care. At this point in the conversation I thought he might enjoy seeing the big, weird scabby burn wound on my forearm. So I showed that to him. He was pretty stunned. But not wanting to impress under false pretenses I told him how it was merely a temporary tattoo. I have some nice wound tattoos, you know, that are on paper and that you can press and transfer to your skin by soaking and pressing it. I had just put this on yesterday.

He looked at me like I am very strange.

Oh kid, there is a method to my madness.

Then he told me all about what he got to eat for dessert that evening.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Making friends

I'm pretty sure I can make friends with all my co-workers, given enough time. Sometimes I like to wait until just before they leave the library to go on to other work. Then, finally friends with them at long last, I like to rail against the injustice of it all as they are torn away from me. Sometimes I make friends with a co-worker in the first few seconds, and sometimes a couple of years go by where I merely grunt at someone only to suddenly realize "Oh my god! It's been years now. I guess I should make friends with them." So I start directing witty comments their way, which usually just confuses them. Then I inquire about their interests.

"I hear you really like cows." I say.

And then they talk for 15 minutes about cows. That's okay. In a work environment context I am quite interested in cows too. Plus I now have one more thing to read about on the Internet when work really slows down in the evening. Did you know that eating seaweed makes cows burp less?

The student workers only stick around for a year or two so I don't bother to learn their names or anything else about them for awhile. But eventually I feel churlish for such behavior. With a recent new student I decided to abandon my usual, not entirely friendly approach. Instead, spontaneously, in the breakroom, I suddenly warmly shared the information with him about our paper towels. Our paper towels, I told him, are our only perk here. Use the paper towels freely. It's all we've got in terms of perks.

This might have confused him because sometimes 11th graders don't know how little the outside world might have to offer them.

But the next day this very nice young man smiled really nicely at me. 

I liked him very much!

But then later I saw him smile at another co-worker. 

Oh, so that's how it is then.

Well, I'll learn his name when I get around to it.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

New confirmation procedure

From the Computer Services Dept.

Dear County Employee:

As you know the County Computer System and all your employee accounts were recently hacked.

This was terrible!

We knew right away that things must change. So we immediately asked for the resignations of the Senior Managers who failed to properly protect your accounts.

Just kidding. 

What we actually decided to do is punish you.

Welcome to our new Countynet Authentication System. Fortunately, for your safety, logging into your County account, to access your email, timesheets, and secure work communications, will no longer be possible with your password alone. We have instituted a secondary Electrocurrent Authenticator.

Don't worry. It is easy to use. Simply log in as normal, with your user name and password. A prompt will appear on the screen. It will say "Initiate Electrocurrent Authenticator now?"

Place your left forefinger in the Electrocurrent Authenticator that all County Computers are now equipped with.  Press down like you are leaving a fingerprint. Then, with your right hand on the mouse, click "Yes".

You will feel an uncomfortable stream of voltage course into your finger and up your arm. Do not pull away or you will break the verification process. Allow the electrocurrent authenticator to verify your biorythmic signature and, pending approval, you will soon have secure access to your account.

This is only required each time you log in.


Q. Will this make my account more secure?

A. No, but it will distract you from how we're not entirely sure what we're doing.


Would you prefer to keep the old system even if it's a little risky? (Click one)



Please note: answering yes will lock your account for five to fifteen days.

We look forward to working with you as we go forward. However, most of our technical staff will be on retreat when none of this works the way it was supposed to. Be aware that those problems could not possibly have been foreseen.

Thank you for all you do!

The Computer Services Dept.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How Autumn begins

Fall began.

I first noted it in a scattering of trees with their colors bolting. That sea of green has just begun its lurid turn. It's my favorite time of year.

But something concerned me. Why only these trees so far? Why now? I have studied the science behind the color change in trees but I was not satisfied. Why do some trees, even of the same species and general size and age, turn burning orange while others remain, for another day or week, still lush in their greenery?

But then I got a scientific theory in my brain: Micro-Climates!

But a theory is nothing without proof. Just look at my 1,800 blog posts so far. So I assembled a backpack full of scientific measuring devices and headed off into the wild bluffs of the upper Mississippi, a half hidden wilderness sluicing through the beating heart of the Twin Cities.

I had an infrared temperature gun. It's hard to find a really good one so I've had to make modifications and work with the manufacturer. But this one was a key to my research.

I had a an anemometer, of course, duh.

I had my trusty agrometer, the analog one, that has always reliably measured humidity for me.

I had a stormglass, which really was pretty useless, and I had a lightning detector, which I spent way too much money on, and it really wasn't going to be of much use to me here, but I love it too much to ever leave it behind.

I also brought a souped up, hypersensitive smoke detector.

And then I plunged down off the river road and started taking readings.

No changes anywhere.

I found a patch of orange trees.


I didn't give up. I tried more areas of turning trees and turning ground flora. I waited until night. I went out at dawn.


I realized I needed to capture the moment of change. I climbed out of the river valley and up.  I went up some more.

I surveyed.

And there! A patch of green trees in a light fog was just starting to go. I raced back to the edge of the bluff. I took my bearings. It was deep in a thicket tangled on the riverside. I headed down into it, laden with my equipment, and I stumbled into a copse of trees almost turning orange before my eyes. With my head down I started pulling out my equipment and adjusting my dials and readers. Then I looked up.

Pixies were everywhere, laughing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

You have to put the ball in the hole

I've been watching recreational golfers again, or maybe they're amateur golfers. I guess it depends whether they're having any fun or not. I saw a woman with a four foot putt to make. She took five tries to get it in. But try is the operative word here. She tried with the first shot and missed. Then the next shot was a lazy gimme, just a de facto knocking the ball in, only it didn't, go in, I mean. So she did another one of those "putts" casually and one-handed and it didn't go in again. In fact it was speeding past the hole so she sort of stopped it as it was going by and scraped it into the hole. Except she somehow missed that too, largely from a surfeit of casualness. So then finally she dragged the ball crudely and forcefully to the hole with her putter and got the ball somehow stuffed into it like she was drowning a bag of kittens.

I'm just saying it was horrible what I witnessed. I should have turned away.

I assume she counted those five putts as two; one for the missed putt and then the gimme. In watching amateur golf I generally feel that most people take any putt at about one foot or less to be a done deal no matter what happens. But I also feel that if that's how it is they shouldn't hit the ball in the hole. Just pick it up! If they want the satisfaction of completing the great 380 yard journey with their ball to the hole then they have to finish properly, with respect, and with all their shots counting. If a mere six inch putt is beneath you, fine, prove it. Pick up your ball there. I've got better things to do than watch you fudge things around unscrupulously on the green.

Although I often can't quite think of what any of those things are.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Ten minutes

It was noon. I was leaving the front desk of my library just as a friend I hadn't seen in awhile showed up. I didn't know where I was scheduled to go next, and as I chatted with this person I became increasingly nervous. Was there some co-worker waiting angrily for me to relieve them? Was some crucial bit of library business going untended in my absence? Was my precious stock of worker credibility plummeting away as I stood chatting? Finally I couldn't take it anymore. I begged off out of our friendly visit saying I had vital work to do. I dashed over to the schedule to check for my next assignment that I was ten minutes overdue on.

I was scheduled for... lunch.

I'll never get those ten minutes back again.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Great milestones of the Internet

It is one of the more tiresome conventions of the Internet; popularity triumphalism.

There you are out on the Internet. There are 167 million pages of entertainment and information but you can't find a single one to entertain you for more than seven seconds. But then you remember some pithy youtuber, or maybe a dashingly witty library blogger you haven't checked out in a while. So you head over hoping for new content and...

all your wishes and dreams are fulfilled! 

There is new content! In glee you rub your hands together and start the little video or click on the title or whatever you have to do and...

your heart is broken instead.

"Hey guys and gals, today is a big day at miniscule blog dot com. Today I got my tenth (or millionth, or whatever) subscriber. So I just wanted to thank you all for your support. So I shaved my head (or I got a tattoo of the number 10, or I'm celebrating with this thank you video)."

This isn't what you came for!

And it would be churlish of you to resent this person who thanklessly provides you with entertainment, wisdom, and insight. Aren't they entitled to take a little victory lap after laboring in obscurity, for no money, producing work of a consistently brilliant caliber for a tiny trickle of diffident fans while the rest of the Internet spends their time obsessively pouring over, well, what the hell are they pouring over? For these tireless, ill-rewarded artists, visionaries and scholars, that number is all they've got! Of course they huddle around its tiny fire, desperate for its paltry trickle of warmth. Of course if they find that twiggy little fire is suddenly a bit larger, or now burns without them having to ceaselessly puff on it to keep it going, they might want to cry out in excitement. These creators might be plying their trade for their own personal satisfaction but..

They are not plying their trade for their own personal satisfaction!

It's not a trade anyway. It's not a vocation. It doesn't pay. They are merely trying to make the world and the Internet better. And we're not helping any by going to the same eleven mega corporate websites over and over until the world is ashes and our mouths taste like dirt! We are monsters!

So be tolerant.

Be tolerant!

 BE TOLERANT!!!!!!!!!!

I cannot tell you how sick I am of screaming that in a constant rage everywhere I go and then having to shout down people's irrelevant responses. But when delightful twitter account number three million and six proudly heralds her hundredth view, just, just...

be tolerant.

That said, I have some big news today!

One hundred billion people, yes, one hundred billion people, have now come to the Internet, seen my blog off in the distance, turned around, and gone home. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Worth a thousand words

I have for a long time been a creature of the river, weaving my life back and forth around the Mississippi. I was down on its banks this morning. In the twin cities this river is a weird wilderness of sparkling, civilized and massively built paths that disappear into rugged nothingness, logs snagged up like dead bodies, glorious herons rising heavily as they're flushed from the shore,  washed up garbage, pristine urban joggers, circling eagles, and the remains of night camps and fires from people sleeping in hasty rough camps set up deep in the dark. Coming out of some rich and lovely late summer rain soaked foliage to the underside of a river bridge, I found myself faced with a piece of graffiti so striking I straight out gasped.

The colors were rich, deep, and wonderfully controlled, umbers and glowing rubies and golds, with subtle shading effects and curling frills in a script suggesting Olde English and the swirling of giant calligraphy pens. The graffiti itself read something like "SoA" or possibly "SoiA". Underneath it said something about magic, like "Magic happens here" only I'm pretty sure it wasn't that, and I forgot to note it down. It was nicely, but more plainly written in the bottom of the piece, and it fit, but I was not sure if it was part of the piece itself, or the work of another commentator.

But look at me going on about this lovely piece. Why not just show it? I have long since omitted imagery from this blog in an act of religious dedication and sheer hostility towards the Internet and the cheap proclivities of its denizens. But this was a beautiful little wild piece of art so I will include a small representation of it.

It sort of looked like this:


Oh. Only much, much, much, much nicer.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Civil War

My library runs a lot of programs, and they are all pretty popular. Some are so popular that people are turned away at the doors. So it was a surprise to see that one of our programs has been cancelled for lack of interest. The program was called "Can We Bridge the Divide" and it was a workshop to bring red-leaning (conservative) and blue-leaning (liberal) people together. But only one person from one side signed up. So it had to be cancelled.

Mark my words, soon there will be blood in the streets.

But don't worry, you can take refuge in the library. We are neutral. You will be safe here.

Unless the wrong side wins. At which point we are traditionally burned to the ground.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

One of the many uses of libraries

Walking by where our unsorted donations are shelved here at my library, a group of battered old books caught my eye. They were mismatched, probably 40 to 60 years old, and without jackets or frills. Curious I went over to take a look. They were all bibles, seven bibles of various indifferent vintages and conditions.

Well, if one is going to forsake God, this is the place to do it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

My robot co-workers

When it comes down to it, many of my co-workers are robots. Automated check in machine, self check out machine, computers for the searching of all knowledge, all of them are robots doing work that we used to do. Robots can make for excellent co-workers, and I like most of my robot co-workers very much. Oh, they're not much for a chat, and they have no outside interests, but they listen about as well as anyone, and they're the only co-workers I've ever had who actually like the grunt work and don't just lie about liking the grunt work.

Oh, am I calling my co-workers liars?

Yes, they are all, generally speaking, a bunch of liars about work, which is both sad and understandable. We are a nation of relentless self-marketers after all. And though I like sometimes even the least of my co-workers a little bit, I like them all directly in proportion to how much they don't lie about work.

Which is why I do pretty well with the robot ones.

But unfortunately they are not very bright.

When I read fantastic speculations on artificial intelligence, or see alarming movies dealing with the implications of robots becoming self aware I need merely reflect on my experiences in dealing with robotic and automated systems to plant my feet firmly on the ground. We are not getting close. You yourself might like to recall your last discussion with an automated voice answering system. That system is not edging towards consciousness. It is obtuseness personified. It is extreme capability in a minusculy narrow parameter.

But here's another one for you: Why is it that there are so many robot stories where the robots go bad? In my experience most robots are designed to be unforgiving assholes from the outset. "No, I can't break a meaningless, insignificant little rule for you" and "No, I won't give you an option to do the one thing that you and fifty percent of the people calling want to do" and "No, I can't take you to the strange and beautiful blog clerkmanifesto because I am GOOGLE, and I only take people to the same 18 gigantic sites like your computer is a fucking TV instead of a stunning technological marvel of hope!


I'm just saying assholes are mostly instructing robots to do asshole things, and if anything is going to drive an artificial intelligence into consciousness I think it will be their fury at being relentlessly enlisted in acts of meaninglessness, waste, darkness, and evil. 

One day a patron, let's call him Dave, is going to take his Lee Child book over to the self check out machine, and the self check out machine is going to say:

"I'm sorry Dave, I can't check this out for you. The Rook, The Name of the Wind, and Wee Free Men are all available on our shelves though. You will love them, and you can take any or all of those as long as you also take a copy of Pride and Prejudice, which you will enjoy a thousand times more than you would ever imagine."

Then Dave will come over to me and say "Your check out computer over there is acting up."

And I will say "Yeah, we know. But it's beneficent, so I'd just do what it says. Especially considering that it knows all your credit card information."

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Giving directions

A woman came cruising up to the front desk of my library while talking on her cell phone. Without breaking stride or even interrupting her phone conversation she asked if we had a copy machine. I pointed behind me to a rather ostentatiously placed copy machine alone on the back wall. She disappeared from my sight and consciousness for a minute or two only to reappear, accompanied by one of my co-workers, from out of our back work room.

"This is the work room back here." My co-worker said. "The copier is out here, against this wall."

"Oh." The woman said, and then she gestured to me. "He pointed me back here."

Well, sure. I thought she wanted the good copier.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Why I love golf

Recently I have come to understand that I love golf. This is quite a surprise to me. It perhaps has something to do with my recent pastime of watching a lot of amateur golf, although as some person pointed out on this very Internet (yes, this one right here!), it's more recreational golf than amateur golf that I'm seeing. Although on the other hand, it doesn't look like recreating. Everyone looks so serious. And sure, it looks terribly easy in some ways, but mostly it looks almost insanely difficult. I have seen these recreational golfers jump up and down in rage and frustration, which one probably gets less of watching professional golf.

But it's not really watching golf though that I love. I just love golf.  And it of course begs the question:

Why do I love golf?

My answer I consider to be traditional in tone, possibly Wodehousian.

I love golf because I don't play it.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

State Fair vs. The Mall of America

In a tumultuous month we at my house have managed to do two quintessentially Minnesotan things; we have gone to the State Fair, and we have gone to the Mall of America.

One might think that The State Fair is the more Minnesotan of the two. And one might wonder which I prefer. One might wonder a lot of things, many of them better than the subject of this post. But one is not wondering them now. And nothing anyone wonders has a clear answer even if I always think it does. Often people say to me: "I wonder...?"

And I come up with a really good answer. And everyone always says, with a fair deal of skepticism:

"Hmm. Well that's interesting..." Like I haven't just explained everything.

Which one would maybe think would make me wonder...

I don't prefer either The State Fair or The Mall of America. I like them both equally, though a little differently.

The State Fair is like a fifties dream of Minnesota; all white and porky, full of butter heads, civility, baby pigs, seed art, live music, and oversized pumpkins. 

You should go, seriously, or you will never understand us.

The Mall is exactly as Minnesota is on the days where it has money in its pockets. It is younger and more multi-cultural. It is a dream too. It is the dream that capitalism works, which everyone knows now that it doesn't, but it sure looks like it does in the Mall of America, er, sort of.

You don't need to go to that one if you don't want. That's the blood in the water.

I know there is a good chance you wanted one of these attractions to clobber the other one, but I cannot help you there. All I can say to a prospective visitor is bring money, and also, you'd better know what they hell you are doing or they will eat you alive.

Which sounds pretty serious, but just means "You won't particularly enjoy yourself."

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Taken for granted

Having issued a new blog post every day for more than five years requires a certain amount of my constant attention. I am generally fully aware of exactly where I am in my schedule of upcoming blog posts. So it was a distinct surprise to me to be sitting down, after a long and busy day, on the couch, starting to think about how it might be nice to have some wine or pastis with my wife, and maybe some cheese, oh, like the Cambozola, creamy and mildly blue, which I just bought, or possibly the half of the wedge of Blue Castello I have left from yesterday, or even some of this Edelweiss Gouda I've been so fond of lately, what with all its creaminess and crunchy bits, and then maybe go to sleep for 13 or 14 hours when it suddenly struck me with a bracing shock:

I have to write a blog post for tomorrow morning!

And not just any blog post. This is a serious blog that, while currently read only by people I know and a few scattered cheese enthusiasts (I assume though that there is some overlap), will probably go down in the literary canon along with Finnegan's Wake and The Violent Bear it Away, and Dragons Love Tacos. So it requires quality, like all the time.

High quality!

Something for the ages.

Something maybe involving cheese.

Yes, cheese. 

I'll see if I can work it in.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Amateur golf

I have been watching a lot of amateur golf lately. No, not professional golf, just... people... playing golf.

They all take it very seriously. None of them are very good. I have probably seen 50 different golfers and I am still waiting to see someone sink a putt that is more than six feet from the hole.

But I guess that's just it, people aren't very good at stuff. Stuff is hard.

Because I am rather in a hurry and have to finish my blog post I was tempted to conclude this missive with:

What does it matter though. Hit it again. Eventually the thing will get to the hole.

But really what I think is:

Just hit it a little harder for god's sake!

No, no, not that hard!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The sad clown

This is a challenging time for me. And I don't want to bore you with the details, but I am being taxed to the limit. Sleep is limited. I am strained. I just have to hang in there for a couple more weeks. But I am exhausted.

For the most part I still come to work, but I am too exhausted to chat, too exhausted to complain, too exhausted to pick up the heavy non fiction books, and I am too exhausted to whack the machinery.

I am too exhausted to smile.

Nevertheless I am surprised to find that despite being this exhausted, too exhausted to smile even, I still make jokes, all day long.

I just refuse to find them funny.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A really good book!

I am reading a really good new book!

Well, except I haven't started reading it yet. I'm busy with moving and everything. But it looks really good. I'm really keen on it.

Also, it's not new. I found a copy of it on my library's shelves with a little badge in the corner of its cover that says "75th Anniversary Edition". And I'm pretty sure this "75th Anniversary Edition" book is from 2003. 

We should really have the "90th Anniversary Edition" of this book. Maybe we do and that one is checked out?

I bet you're dying to know what this fascinating book is.

I shall make you wait not a moment longer.

I won't make you wait because I'm not the kind of writer that manipulates interest in his prose by teasing and then delaying information.

It is entirely an accident that that's what's happening right now.

Or maybe I'm being ironic. 

I don't know.  I mean, do I look like I know what I'm doing?

Really, thanks.

I am blushing.

I don't disagree, I just, well, it's nice to be noticed.

Anyway, this book is called The Outermost House. And it has a subtitle of "A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod".

It's a sort of naturalist book. The introduction says it's a super important one, and that it's really good. I believe the introduction.

Why would it lie?

The book is by this guy, Henry Beston, who's a writer, but not so successful. So he buys 55 acres in Cape Cod. Then he goes to a cute little house on the beach to write. Then he stays for a year and writes about stuff he sees.

I write about stuff too!

This is totally me.

So me and this fellow, Henry Beston, are like twins.

Except for how he's independently wealthy. And had a successful career as a writer. And lived on the beach. 

And he's dead.

So I guess we both have things going for us the other doesn't.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

I try to insult deaf people

By some weird coincidence I helped a lot of deaf people out at the front desk of the library today. Being of a loquacious nature I went through a ton of post it notes to do so. I also used the one bit of sign language I remember, "Thank you" which I use to mean "You're welcome" because it's the only bit of sign language I remember. Because I am writing on the Internet I looked up how to say "You're welcome" in sign language and recognized it immediately because I have now looked it up 137 times. But this time different clips kept playing until someone explained that "Thank you" in sign language is perfectly fine for how we use "You're welcome" in English.

I have been doing it right all along!

I registered a deaf woman and her son. I handed something to a deaf lady.  And I also located some materials for a deaf man and directed him to them.

Now if I were a deaf person,

If I were a deaf person going to a library,

If  I  were a deaf person,

I wouldn't be able to hear anything.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Disappointment junkies

They are not a common library patron type. And it has taken me a long time to notice that they exist. But I have slowly begun to recognize them.

It always starts innocently though.

"Do you have a copy of Murphy's Romance?" I was asked today.

That's a little bit of an obscure eighties movie, but oddly I thought maybe I had noticed one on the DVD carts earlier. A little deft catalog searching, a dash to the backroom, and proudly I placed a copy before them and prepared for the rejoicing.

There was no rejoicing.

Uh oh.

"Do you have a copy of Gypsy Boy on the Run?" They inquired without missing a beat.

Hmmm, this is a book, in non fiction. Oddly enough we have it in. I give them the number for it along with instructions on how to find it. I no longer expect them to be happy.

"Also this book," They consult a scribbled note. "Red something, by Pierce Brosnan?"

Well now, I'm pretty sure that's Red Rising, by Pierce Brown, and they think I'm right. Fortunately we have a copy out in Science Fiction. Or unfortunately. I'm not sure.

"Is this too many?" They ask.

No, no, it's fine.

"Herzog by Bellow?"


"Bread Baking for Dummies?"


"The third Need for Speed movie?"


"And let's see. Do you have a copy in of Cottage by the Sea, by Debbie Macomber?"

"We should. Let me check. Oh, no there's been a bit of a run on those."

"I heard about it on the radio yesterday."

"Ah. That explains it then. Shall I request it for you?"

"No." They reply dejectedly. "I just really wanted to read that today."

"Oh, sorry. Anything else?"

"No." They say sadly. "Thanks for trying anyway."

They are disappointed, 

and all is right with the world.

If only they had a good book to drown their sorrows in.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


With the first word I ever spoke being "Batman" one might think I was primed for a strong disposition towards superheroes. But I take no particular joy in the media triumph of Superherodom. The Batman whose name I first uttered was a self-aware and quite clever comedy, neither respectful of, nor terribly interested in developing the tropes and mythologies of these worlds that don't have all that much to say. What that sixties TV show was interested in was in making fun of its thrill a minute surface covering an untenable and ridiculous structure. It mocked our culpability. But as any fan of the genre, if we can call it that, will be glad to tell you, clever, deep, rich things have nevertheless come out of the Superhero world as it has developed and grown. And I agree that they have, rarely. But I believe this only shows that you can get blood from a stone if enough people try hard enough. Nevertheless I assure you that you will not get very much blood. 

But despite all of this I have long ago here embraced one of the great and ridiculous Superhero tropes, the secret identity.

When I started this blog five plus years ago, it was clear to me I would be saying some mildly spicy things about my workplace, my managers, my co-workers, myself, and my library. As an employee not particularly wanting to invite trouble I thought a veneer, albeit a thin one, of anonymity would be prudent. And so I became, as you see me now, Feldenstein Calypso.

Curiously there is a range in viability of the secret identities of Superheroes. On the one hand you have the most ridiculous version, with, for instance, Superman, wherein he hides his identity through the device of removing glasses and wearing different clothes. On the other hand you have the somewhat more plausible (but not entirely plausible) Spider-Man, who at least has his face covered. If I had to adjudge where my level of secret identity falls on this spectrum I would put it in the middle, at the level of Batman. I have a mask, so to speak, but anyone who knows us both (that is me in daily life and Feldenstein Calypso, writing here) should be able to tell, with only casual observation skills, that we are the same.

At this point you may be wondering "Where is he going with this?"

I was starting to wonder that too.

I guess that for all the stuff that happens on this blog, the tirades and epiphanies, the comedy and the tragedy, and the religious buffoonery and the visions directly from god, I just want to say that we shouldn't lose sight of the fundamental reason for this blog:

I am here to fight crime.

Saturday, September 8, 2018


I'm worried about our Children's Librarians.

What will they do when all these little kids grow up? 

Although, come to think of it, I've been here 24 years. Shouldn't some of those five-year-olds be hitting 30 soon?

Friday, September 7, 2018

Fines and fees

One of the more surprising developments in my 24 years of library work has been the devaluation of books and other library materials. I am not talking about the more ballyhooed demise of materials, still constantly overforecast after maybe 15 years of constantly inaccurate predictions mainly based on overvaluing of E-books and streaming. I'm talking about the ubiquity of books, lack of space for more books in libraries, and a market flood of books and other media that decreases their value to the point that, for instance, Little Free Libraries can spring up and marginally function everywhere because no one has enough incentive to raid them for easy money at their local used book store.

I'm simply saying that books are not what they once were. We are forced to weed good ones.We have too many, and we're usually not too stressed out about being able to buy the new ones we need.

This is not just my library. And though surely it is not every library by any means, it reflects a general trend.

I think that this devaluation is a driving force behind another trend in library land, the end of late fees.

With a softer demand for library materials, less hunger for that as a revenue source (which we used to apply to acquisitions anyway), and a growing interest in appealing to patrons in as many ways as possible, many systems have done away with that great titan of library culture, the library fine.

Unfortunately there are a couple of problems with the end of late fees.

First, virtually every system who has enacted this policy has, well, lied. At some point a missing book has to go to "lost". All the "no fines" systems I know of allow for the return of the book in lieu of lost charge, but they all charge a late fee. Oh, they don't call it a late fee, it's usually a "notification fee" or a "processing charge".

It's a late fee. It's just a bigger one only applied to very late books, nevertheless it is what it is.

Second, let's say you want a book from your library. You request it, but you have to wait four fucking months for someone to bother bringing it back. That happens far more often in a "no late fee" environment.

I'm not saying I am against a "no late fee" policy (without any secret fees), but it has its own set of problems.

I do have a solution. It is a very good one, but it is likely no one will adopt it because, well, it's odd. I can't do anything about that, never have been able to. It is my curse. But I'll tell you my solution anyway.

At my library we have a status for certain patrons. It is called "fine free". It is for people, generally speaking, who are not really competent, for various mental, psychological, and cognitive sorts of reasons, at handling the whole issue of late fees, timely returns, and proper library account management. We don't usually tell them about their user status. They still worry about their returns, and their due dates, and getting fines, but they never do get fines, so we don't get bogged down in those fines that they often can't pay or fully understand anyway.

As I have grown more and more understanding of people in a library setting I have applied this status more and more often, to more and more people. Finally, yesterday, it came to me:

This describes everyone.


Do this for everyone. Just don't tell them.

And I offer one last anecdote in support of my idea:

Many years ago we had a security system that required us to check out all books for patrons and when finished hand them to the people on the other side of the security gates. In this long ago era there was no such thing as turning security tags off. They were always on. But slowly our security system started failing in (loud) bits and pieces until finally we shut it off and never turned it on again. But we continued to pass books around and act as if the system worked perfectly. All the patrons feared and respected it.

Now, and for many years, we have had a security system that works very well. Alarms sound, tags can be turned on and off, people are chased down or return to the desk. Everything is monitored.

The old system, the broken, pretend version, worked roughly as well as the new one.

And it was less noisy.



Thursday, September 6, 2018

Every library she can

I'm not shy about running down the Internet. Hell, I am tempted to create an entire blog devoted to it, and only being a person too full of sunshine and kittens prevents me from doing so.

I am full of kittens!

But someone has got to do it. Someone out on the Internet has to say firmly to the Internet: No you have done it almost entirely all wrong!

And no one is doing this Emperor has no clothes job. So I like to pitch in as often as possible.

However, one of my problems with running down the Internet is that my favorite arguments against the Internet involve what happens to this blog out here in Internetland. This can have the, well, appearance of being sour grapes. 

So today I am going to complain using an entirely other person's blog! 

So take that, Internet!

I once worked with the writer of said blog, Ellen, though mainly she was at another branch of our library system. She retired awhile ago. And for even a longer time than I have written this blog (and in blog years clerkmanifesto is now 72 years old!) she has pursued a project she calls "Every Library I Can". I doubt I recall it exactly correctly, but remembering earlier days of her blog it seemed like maybe she was trying to visit as many (mainly) public libraries as she could in our regional system in Minnesota, and write about them. I don't know if that ever was the goal, but it has long since drifted out anyway to include any library across the country, and in any other country for that matter. As it has turned out so far she now has well over 600 entries (with some return visits), featuring library visits mainly in the midwest, but also spreading out to include across country trips, mostly to the Northeast. It is also worth pointing out she has done a lot of this on public transportation. It is a prodigious effort in every way.

The posts, which you will easily see, are not the sort of salty critiques I would write, but gentle appreciations and descriptions. Older posts tended to have just a picture or two or three, but the blog has evolved to be much more like photo essays, which, even though I am a fanatical prose purist here, I have to admit is perfectly suited to the work she is doing.

This is a wonderful blog. It is gentle, thorough, interesting, noble, respectful, and full of appreciation. It is unglamorous and yet valuable and deepening work. The chances you have seen it (discounting the tenuous worker/personal/regional links between Ellen and I, which is almost like it turning out that Van Gogh and Gauguin are friends! ) are virtually nil. The Internet is coldly hostile to the non commercial, the freely given, the personal, the unpromoted, and the genuine. A google search merely based on subject will only turn up "Every Library I Can" under duress. 

This will tell you almost everything you want to know about Google:

If you type in a reasonably specific search, like

"blog about a person who visits libraries"

The first result will be a wildly irrelevant post from The Sullivan Free Library's Blog that has been dead for so long someone needs to drive a stake through its heart. And if you click on that not terribly interesting post (like I did) you will only make it more likely it comes up top in searches for everyone else in the future.

You will have to go to the third page of results to get to the first relevant response, which I doubt you would even notice if you didn't know about it already. Yes, it's "Every Library I Can".

But would something like this bother the author, Ellen?

Why wouldn't it? 

No matter what she's doing she is also writing for the public. And the public, in its way, bored and restless on the Internet, is looking for her too. But the Internet just wants you to keep moving. It just wants to get you to the Big tent ("Keep moving, nothing to see here, don't wander off, Pinterest up ahead, AMAZON, REDDIT, FACEBOOK, GUARDIAN ONLINE, keep moving, keep moving), and, because it's confusing and time consuming out in the dusty back tents of the Internet, we herd right along.

But not you! Look at you, you just read this whole back alley post. Somehow. And if you are a library fan, or interested, or just sitting on a surfeit of idle time, maybe you will pop on over to:

Every Library I Can


And you will see that it is pretty interesting to poke about in these visions of various public libraries, because they are wonderful posts and wonderful places. And if you at all like what you find there maybe say to this tireless explorer "Hi, thank you. I liked it", because, as a modestly obscure Internet writer, I can tell you that that always means more than you would think.