LibraryElf

Thanks to the Municipal Library Consortium’s decision to subscribe to LibraryElf, it is now easier than ever to keep track of all your library materials.

Who uses Elf?

  • Anyone who wants to reduce overdue fines
  • Families with children and lots of books
  • Individuals with several library cards
  • Anyone who requests a lot of holds

 

What’s delivered?

  • Email and/or RSS alerts before items are due
  • Email and/or RSS alerts on overdue items and holds
  • Consolidated list of yours or your family’s library loans and holds
  • Cellphone text message alerts for holds
  • Real-time checking by browser

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Go to www.wgpl.org and click on “Library Elf” to sign up today!

 

Libraries and Tax Forms

As recently as the 1980s there were several places around town where taxpayers could find the forms needed for annual filing. Among these were public libraries, post offices, even some grocery stores! In time, all but one of these has abdicated this responsibility–the public library. The problem is that it is not in anyone’s core mission to provide tax forms, nor are there laws specifying where they can be found. So if the U.S. Postal Service decides not to bother, they have that right.

Public libraries work more closely with their clientele. We understand people’s needs, and so we have never stopped providing tax forms. But providing this service is dependent upon the state and federal government sending us forms to distribute in the first place. For the past several years, both have been cutting back on what they will send us. Missouri especially has greatly curtailed the forms they make available, while the federal government has been cutting back a little more slowly.

However, we just received notice from the Internal Revenue Service that due to recent budget cuts, they really need to transition to electronic filing more aggressively. They are sending us significantly fewer forms this year. Most troubling is the fact that they will not send any instruction booklets for the 1040 and other basic forms. For years we have been working with library patrons to show them how to visit the IRS Website and print out the forms they need. But printing out whole instruction booklets can get pretty expensive. Of course there’s the option of finding the booklet online and reading through it while you work on your forms, but that is not an option for people who are either not online at home or who simply do not know how to use the Internet.

On one hand we see it as a good idea for the IRS and state governments to transition to online filing: it saves tons of money and it saves tons of paper. Every year, libraries throw out or recycle boxes and boxes of forms nobody needed. But even though many millions of Americans have long been comfortable using online resources, there are still significant numbers of our fellow citizens who are not. We hope we will be able to go on helping them, but sometimes it seems like the ‘powers that be’ make it awfully hard to do that.

Good Enough for Me . . .

We have long pondered the question of how old to say Webster Groves Public Library is. This is an important question, because we are, by most measures, the oldest public library in St. Louis County, rivaled in the region only by the older St. Louis Public Library. Last year we completed a comprehensive history of the library which shows that Webster Groves Public Library has been around in one version or another since 1884.

It was in 1884 that a group at First Congregational Church started a public reading room. By 1893, that reading room was moved to a larger space within the Church’s new sanctuary. It was open to the public until 10 at night six days a week. When First Congregational Church tired of providing a public reading room, the mantle was taken up by the ladies of the Monday Club of Webster Groves. In 1911 they opened their club building, which included space for a public library. This library was reported on in the annual reports of the Missouri Library Commission, which called it either The Monday Club Library or Webster Groves Public Library.

It wasn’t until 1927 that the citizens of Webster Groves passed their first tax levy for public library services, and in October 1928 the library building in Frank Hamsher High School was dedicated. This begs the question–do we count our history from 1884 or from 1927? Counting from 1884, we are by far the oldest library in St. Louis County. Counting from 1927, we are rivaled by Kirkwood, where they passed a library tax in 1924.

I just noticed that St. Louis Public Library is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year. They are counting 150 years from 1865, when a members-only, subscription library was created in the city of St. Louis. It wasn’t until 1893 that a tax levy was passed to support a public library. The way I see it, if it’s good enough for St. Louis Public Library, it’s good enough for us.

Thus Webster Groves Public Library is 131 years old, far and away the oldest public library in St. Louis County. Too bad we are still years away from a sesquicentennial celebration or any other milestone. But it’s still nice to know.

Foodie Movies

I saw a movie last night called Chef, a 2014 release starring Jon Favreau, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johanssen, Sofia Vergara and about a dozen other people. It was pretty good, not great, but enjoyable mostly for the wonderful scenes of food being prepared, which is a kind of theater enjoyed by a certain type of viewer–namely, foodies.

Over the years there have been a number of great food movies. The first I remember is the 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast, based on a novel by Karen Blixen (most famous for Out of  Africa). There was also Big Night, from 1996, starring Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci as brothers and partners in an Italian restaurant. In 1994 Ang Lee gave us Eat Drink Man Woman, about a Chinese restaurant owner dealing with his three independent daughters.

These were all good movies, memorable mostly for their scenes of what many critics call ‘food porn': lovingly rendered closeups of cutting and sauteing and displaying food on plates in splendid, colorful, steamy profusion. For this alone, most of these movies are watched again and again by foodies.

I wonder if I’m missing any? Do you know of any other great food movies? How about great scenes of food in otherwise not foodie movies?

Bill of Rights Day

December 15 was Bill of Rights Day. It has never been a major day of observance, even though Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed it as long ago as 1941, acknowledging that December 15, 1791 was the day the first ten amendments to our Constitution took effect. I noticed that a few libraries had posted book lists for Bill of Rights Day: mostly books about the history of the Constitution and of the Bill of Rights itself. There’s some interesting reading there.
I have to admit that I missed it, and we didn’t post any book list. In retrospect, I would say that even had I known it was Bill of Rights Day, and planned carefully for it, I would probably not prepare a list of books. I would only recommend that everyone read something that day. Sure, there are ten amendments, and various people and special interest groups cite one or another of the amendments as the cornerstone of American democracy. It likely goes without saying that to librarians, the First Amendment reigns supreme, particularly where it says, ‘Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . ’
To librarians, this means the freedom of everyone to read what others have said or written. The American Library Association sponsors a yearly Banned Book Week (usually late September), when we highlight all the many books that various individuals and groups have worked to censor or ban over the years. Works by some of our greatest authors are included, people like James Joyce, John Steinbeck, and Mark Twain. During that week libraries encourage people to read one of these books, just to show that despite misunderstanding and narrow-mindedness, our Constitution still protects your right to read what you want.
People keep us on our toes too. In our very political times, we have patrons who question why we don’t have a book by this conservative commentator or that liberal social critic. We may experience the occasional lapse, but there is never an intention to censor.
I remember once, a patron had asked at the front desk to speak with ‘whoever was the person who censors our collection.’ They sent him to me. He was indignant that we had no books in our collection by Erich von Däniken, the author of such controversial tomes as Chariots of the Gods. What I found was that he had searched under ‘von Däniken, Erich,’ but the library catalog lists his name properly as ‘Däniken, Erich von.’ There were nine of his books listed in the catalog, but somehow that didn’t seem to assuage his sense that we had conspired to keep this information from him.
It is interesting how quickly people jump to the assumption that we purposely censor what they want to read, when the fact is, your average public librarians are probably the people in your town most dedicated to making sure you get to read what you want. So again I say, if you want to celebrate the Bill of Rights, whether it’s on Bill of Rights Day or any day of the year, pick up a book, any book, and read it. Remember, it is one of our most precious freedoms, and freedom is always a precarious commodity.

Ferguson Public Library

Ferguson Public Library is a member of the Municipal Library Consortium, one of our sister libraries. Most of the nine Municipal Libraries in our group are geographically contiguous, clustered here in the center of St. Louis County, but two, Ferguson and Valley Park Municipal Library, are at some distance.
Joan Henderson, the long-time director of Ferguson Library, retired last year. She was replaced by Scott Bonner, who had been at the helm there a few short months before all of the problems developed. Talk about a trial by fire. Scott is a very experienced librarian, having worked his last ten years or so at the Richmond Heights Memorial Library; but it goes without saying that no amount of education or experience prepares you for something like this.
During the unrest this past August and September, the Ferguson Library worked with local elementary teachers to create a makeshift schoolroom, inviting kids in for learning activities, crafts, storytelling and more. It served as a safe zone amid so much confusion and chaos. Other local libraries, Webster Groves Public included, gathered supplies and sent them up to Ferguson.
Scott closed the library last night, just ahead of the announcement of the grand jury decision; but he has opened the doors today, and hopes to stay open all day. He hopes the library will once again be a place of refuge. As he has told his staff and tells people who come to the library—all of that political bickering and protesting is for out there, not in here. If you want to come in here you are welcome, just as everyone else is welcome, but this is a politics-free zone.

We wish the best to Scott and his staff at Ferguson Public Library. Stay safe, and keep up the good work.

Nobel Prizes and Insularity

Today’s announcement of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature once again has many Americans scratching their heads. Patrick Modiano? Who is he? This seems to be the reaction almost every time the Nobel Committee selects a non-American (or at least English-speaking) author.

Several years ago, then secretary of the Nobel Committee Horace Engdahl got himself embroiled in controversy when he said that, ‘the US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.’ The statement angered many American intellectuals, for good reason. But he had a point.

If you look at the bestseller lists in major European magazines like France’s Paris Match or Germany’s Der Spiegel, you will notice that they include, and sometimes are almost dominated by, current American books in translation. When was the last time a book in translation made the New York Times Bestseller list? I’m thinking back to Patrick Suskind’s Perfume (1986), translated from German. There has to be a more recent one, but the fact that I can’t recall one speaks volumes.

So when we hear that an author we never heard of has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, our natural reaction is to think the Nobel Committee is once again out of touch. But perhaps we are out of touch. Webster Groves Public Library doesn’t own any books by Patrick Modiano, though there is at least one available through the MLC. We will correct this oversight as soon as we can.

What about you? Do you have any favorite contemporary authors whose works you read in translation? Are you ‘in touch’ with world literature?