Driverless Cars?

Not being a ‘car guy,’ I am not one to read the magazine Car & Driver very often. But I came across the November, 2017 issue yesterday, and have barely been able to put it down. It contains a series of articles, edited by Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, The Tipping Point), on the status and the future of driverless cars.

More erudite than the average Car & Driver article, Gladwell deals with such issues as risk and risk aversion, and how much safer than cars driven by humans will driverless cars have to be to gain broad acceptance; will we ever be able to protect ‘connected’ vehicles from being hacked; what are the technological options for driverless cars; and where we stand right now in the development of those technologies.

As technology changes our lives in new and often confusing ways, there’s nothing like staying informed to help calm our nerves. This article goes a long way in explaining one of those looming technological changes. And speaking of technology, the article is available for checkout from our online magazine database Zinio.


The Answer

Well, it’s been several days and nobody has ventured a guess, so I’ll just offer the answer now. The most-written about news story in the Webster-Kirkwood Times from 1986 to 1988 was the shipping of radioactive waste from the Three Mile Island accident on trains through St. Louis County to points west where that waste was to be disposed of. Those shipments came through Webster Groves on the Missouri Pacific line.

Three Mile Island, a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, experienced a meltdown in March 1979, creating a lot of contaminated water, soil, and nuclear waste. The cleanup lasted until 1993, and it seems that nobody whose communities the waste passed through was happy about it. Residents in Webster Groves, as you may imagine, had a lot to say about it, and every local legislator worked to end the train shipments through town.

Newspapers and History

I noted a while back that during the summer, Webster-Kirkwood Times publisher Dwight Bitikofer donated his personal archive of the paper to the library. Since then we have been working our way through them, indexing the stories they contain. Phil Graham, one time publisher of the Washington Post, once said that ‘journalism is the first rough draft of history.’ It has been fun going through forty years of the rough draft of history for Webster Groves, Kirkwood, Des Peres, Rock Hill, Warson Woods, and other surrounding communities. We have just about finished the first ten years, from 1978 to 1988.

Many stories go on for a long time. From late 1987 to late 1988 there was the story of St. Joseph Hospital facing neighborhood opposition to its proposed heliport. (They got the heliport.) There were quite a few stories about the development of Bethesda Orchard Retirement Center, and the overall development of Old Orchard. Likewise there were many stories about a redevelopment of Old Webster. As late as 1988, that has not begun.

There were pretty many stories about St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary’s proposed reorganization of the county, a plan that would have combined many municipalities: Oakland and Glendale becoming part of Kirkwood, Rock Hill becoming part of Webster Groves. 1988 has not seen the end of that process, but it’s obvious that nothing ever became of the plan.

But there is one ongoing story, which begins in May 1986 and is still being discussed in December 1988, which has far and away more coverage than any other in these years. So far there are nearly 40 stories in the paper, and it shows little sign of letting up soon.

So here is a question to long-time Webster Groves residents: do you know what that story is? I’ll just float the question out there for a little while, and answer it soon. But I’m supposing someone will know . . .

The library recently had a contest to guess the name or location of several buildings in Webster Groves.  Most of the buildings were identified correctly but there were two, the Rock House and Douglass Manor, which stumped several entrants.

The Rock House, which is located at 330 N. Gore, was built in 1852 by Reverend Artemus Bullard for his Webster College for Boys. Edward Avery ran the school after Bullard’s death in 1855 in the Gasconade River train disaster, but the school did not do well in the turmoil leading up to the Civil War and it closed. In 1864, the property was sold to the Western Sanitary Commission to be used as a soldiers’ orphans’ home. Five years later the Western Sanitary Commission merged with St. Louis Protestant Orphan’s Asylum and by 1876, it was caring for 110 children. The building was destroyed down to the stone walls on Thanksgiving Day, 1910 and rebuilt in 1911 but without its original Italianate character. In 1943, the organization’s name was changed to Edgewood Children’s Center. Today it is Great Circle, a school and children’s services organization that was formed in 2009 by the merger of Boys & Girls Town of Missouri and Edgewood Children’s Center.

Originally Douglass Elementary School, Douglass Manor Apartments is a 41-unit apartment building located at 546 N. Elm Avenue. It was built in 1947 on the property of Joseph Mitchell, the founder of the first African-American newspaper in St. Louis, the St. Louis Argus. Until segregation became illegal in 1954, it served the African-American students of north Webster Groves. From the late 1960’s until it closed in 1978 due to decreasing enrollment in the district, it was a highly successful demonstration school. After extensive renovation, it was rededicated in 1983 as an apartment building.


Your Hometown Newspaper

Perhaps you saw the column from Dwight Bitikofer in last week’s Webster-Kirkwood Times, in which he noted that the paper is going into its 40th year of production. That’s quite a run for a newspaper which seems to have been started by a group of kids who got together and said, ‘Hey, let’s make a newspaper!’ That may be imposing a little too much of a movie plot on the beginning of the paper, but it’s a movie I’d like to see.

The success of the paper, as far as I can tell, has been remaining loyal to the communities it serves, telling their stories, treating their tragedies with compassion and their triumphs with joy. I read the Times first thing when I get into my office every Friday morning, to know what’s going on in town.

I don’t know if this is just coincidence, or part of a larger plan, but earlier this summer, Dwight Bitikofer began donating his own personal archive of the paper to the library. We are about 3/4 of the way through sorting and organizing this massive bunch of papers. We are missing very few issues.  It is an amazing source of our town’s history over the past 40 years.

There are stories about our schools, our churches, our neighbors, our local businesses and other institutions; about snowstorms and droughts; about local personalities, celebrities, authors, artists, politicians, and more. The coverage of sometimes notorious crimes with a Webster Groves or Kirkwood connection has been thorough and fair. There are stories about proposed projects that came to fruition, and way too many that never did.

Soon we will figure out the final disposition of the papers, how they will be filed and made accessible to our patrons. In the meantime, if you’re interested, drop by our Reference Room and take a look at some back issues. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.

The Dog Museum?

A while back we added a new service called SELF-e. This allows aspiring authors to self-publish their manuscripts as eBooks and have them included in the library’s catalog. You can find the link to the published eBooks at our Website by clicking on the Materials tab and then on Indie Missouri.

One of the books I found on a recent check was titled Welcome to the Dog Museum of St. Louis, Missouri, by David M. Mundy. The book is mostly photographs of the many displays at the museum, which is located in Chesterfield. But the most distressing thing is that the introduction says the museum is moving to New York in 2018. I checked, and found news articles verifying this. The American Kennel Club, which runs the museum, has decided to move it to New York, close to its national headquarters, to increase attendance. Last year the museum only had about 6,000 visitors.

I’ll admit, I’ve never been, though I have long known it was there. I was surprised, in paging through Mr. Mundy’s book, at how many statues, paintings, photographs, and other dog-related works of art they have. I am not the world’s biggest dog fan, but I like them enough. Now I want to go–especially since I know that the time I have to visit this little gem is limited.

I think that’s the value of having a service like SELF-e. How many interesting books are out there, failing to find major publishers who are interested in printing them, that people like me might want to read, or at least look at?



Email Blunders

For purposes of my job, I am on a few email listservs. These are the lists of many people with similar interests or jobs or professions who all share questions and answers, announcements, news, et cetera pertaining to those things. One of the most important, for me, is the Missouri Library Association (MLA) listserv, from which I usually get several emails every day. Some I read, some seem of less importance.

A while back a local public library posted a job announcement on the MLA listserv. It carried the usual professional and educational requirements, a job description, and the proposed salary range. Soon after I saw it, a response came to me—as it came to hundreds of people on the list—from a woman who listed herself in her signature as a library science student, a prospective librarian. The gist of her message was, ‘No wonder this position is empty! The salary is terrible!’

Of course she didn’t mean to send this to the whole list. She thought she had forwarded this snarky little comment to one friend of hers, but whoops! Now she had revealed herself, at this early stage in her career, as someone who not only made such comments, but who had unrealistic expectations about what a starting salary for a librarian might be. (The salary was perfectly reasonable, and if she did not think so, she may want to reexamine her dedication to the profession. Nobody gets rich in Library Land.) And perhaps she had revealed herself as someone who does not know how to use email very well.

Yesterday on the MLA listserv there was a job announcement from the library at a Missouri university. Soon after it was posted, there came from a librarian at another university the comment that, ‘wow, they sure do go through people over there!’ Again, she had meant to share this comment with one friend, but had sent her denigrating comment to hundreds of Missouri librarians and library employees. Soon she issued an apology; the person who had listed the job posted a defense of her library as a great place to work, et cetera.

All of these problems could be avoided if people just learned to use email well. The problem in both of these exchanges was in misunderstanding, or misusing, the three basic ways one can respond to emails: reply, reply all, and forward. I don’t want to get into explaining here what each of these mean, and most people reading this probably understand it already.

But learning to use email well also means considering whether the thing you want to say is really worth sharing, or whether you should just stifle the impulse to comment and get on with your day. I was at dinner the other evening with three friends, all men who employ people. They all described warning employees about loose emails. Never ‘fire off’ an angry email, they all agreed. It’s usually written and sent in haste, and more often than not regretted within moments.

With the proliferation of social media (anti-social media, some have taken to calling it) we see the lessening, if not the demise of civility, and people share what were once personal viewpoints, misinformed opinions, and misdirected anger with ever-wider audiences. Misuse of email is much the same.

Perhaps this is why so many people still fear email. We conduct weekly sessions , we call them Computer Questions Days, to help people improve their computer and online skills. It is surprising and a little distressing how many folks one meets who are nearly terrified of the idea of using email. But clearly, even people who think they are perfectly comfortable with the technology have a lot to learn.