Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Greatest Book Ever!

Your Jail Librarians made a spectacular find today. The library bin turned out to contain--hold onto your keyboard--The Mammoth Book of Maneaters. This book recounts true stories and cautionary tales about man-eating animals. 

Can you imagine the chills and thrills of sitting in a jail cell, perhaps leaning against a cold stone wall, reading over 250 stories about "creatures that prey on human flesh?" 

As you will see in the picture, the staff had to display Maneaters in a place of prominence. Prominence on a jail bookcart means proximity to James Patterson, Stuart Woods, Walter Mosley and Mario Puzo. Even a Sicilian can get on the wrong side of the snake family or get double-crossed by a crocodile.

(BTW, beloved Book Donaters, this is just the kind of book we like to find tucked in your paper bags. Any other author pictured here will help us out, as well. The goal is to give our readers hours of shivering pleasure.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jail, not Yale!

Today, the library team had a request from a young man in an isolation cell. His voice, muffled by the heavy metal door, said he needed "intellectual stimulation." Our view through the narrow slit of a window confirmed that fact--there was nothing to look at or occupy his time.

Earlier in the week, a worker in one of the cell blocks shouted from a recreation yard, "Hey, Librarian. I loved those poetry books you gave me, especially the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson." We had overheard him quoting a Carl Sandburg poem from memory to a fellow inmate. How often do you hear "City of Wide Shoulders" recited on the street or in the classroom?

Another person has written a novel and wanted grammar, punctuation and spelling books to check his work. Other GED students request books that show their desire to excel to a higher level.

As our team proceeded down the long "Get Smart" hallways of the jail, we passed one of our favorite deputies who quipped, "This is Jail, not Yale."

We're not so sure about that!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eat your heart out, Mom!

ETs MOM Tattoo

Don't gripe, Grim Reapers, but the young magician with the "dark mark" has you beat. An inmate at our city jail wanted to show us his love for Rowling's books, so he rolled up his sleeve and showed us his Harry Potter tattoo, spectacles and all! It looked like this picture:

The days of blue roses and plump red hearts may never go away, but the teenage trickster is now peeking from pecs around America. Since EVERYONE--in or out of jail--is being branded, a wider range of images will be used. Therefore, a Potter tattoo should come as no surprise. Voldemort may seem a little more in keeping with the biker crowd, but you never know. The muggle-born maven, Hermione, may soon appear in the most unusual places. Pip-pip, cheerio!!

Sunday, November 02, 2008


The Alameda County Library fleet ...

announces the arrival of a sleek new Dodge Caravan. Rear Seats were removed to accommodate our weekly deliveries of goodies to the jail. A cage was inserted to protect the heads of the illustrious jail staff from flying bins (or from the kind of unruly passengers known to cops and soccer moms.)

The van drives like a dream, has--finally, Mira!--a built-in CD Player, and holds our aching backs snugly in place as we return home from a hard day's hauling. Only by way of contrast, did we realize how jarring it was to drive back from the jail in our old van. This one is so relaxing it puts the Jails Librarian into an alpha state. If the offgassing from the new plastic doesn't kill us, we'll be in fine shape for years to come.  

The bed is a bit smaller so some of our hauls might have to be smaller. This will only affect a few runs to pick up donations and perhaps cause us to be more selective and efficient. The gas mileage is better and the van can use alternative fuel when necessary. This will save our legs a lot of wear and tear, for all you Flintstones' fans.

So all you taxpayers, thanks for the new wheels!!!!! Our bodies and minds are eternally grateful.

Dan's 2-cents: a real treat.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Remembering Emma Lazarus
Uptown Klezmer's Ashnelerando is the perfect music for the election season. Ashnelerando means "double-quick" in Yiddish and Italian. It's a soundtrack for the election schtick that entertains us every four years.

It's music for the magic show that keeps us believing in our country. The magician saws democracy in two--Republican and Democrat--causing the crowd to gasp and choose sides. On November 4th, (s)he will step out from the ballot box MADE WHOLE. Everyone will congratulate the winner, a stunning Republicrat named __________. Wild applause!!!!

Why is a magic trick required to fool us? On a recent cover, Newsweek sells gullible Americans the lie that we are a nation of conservative war-mongers, so any leader must govern from center-right because only this constituency "pays the bills" and determines the winners. Happily, that means lots of security cameras, detention facilities and "faith" based fortresses at home and abroad. If Fortress America weren't so profitable they might call us what we truly are:

"huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Emma Lazarus knew who we were: an immigrant nation who knew how it felt to be "homeless and tempest-tost." Here's where our readers incarcerated in the County Jails of this country and those who serve them come into the picture.
Like every other huddled citizen, we shout the words of Emma Lazarus. "Keep ancient lands, your STORIED POMP." We remain vulnerable and in need of real governance, not the tactic of slapping people down, favored by some in our government. Michael Ledeen, a Bush adminstration official, learned this as a student of Italian Fascism. And we listen to him, not Emma Lazarus?

What makes inmates vulnerable, you might ask? The same things that place us all at risk: an unresponsive job market with over-priced CEO's and wages few can live on; a lack of broad public work programs or a comprehensive safety-net combining public health, rehab, education and welfare; a judgmental society where religion exploits vulnerabilities instead of reaching out to humbly acknowledge our shared goals and needs. 

Abram Maslow's hierarchy of needs applies all the way from the bottom where vulnerable people get stuck in their daily struggles to the top where self-made men and women preach about "success." Emma's heirs understand that people are not just huddled victims, they are huddled people with ambitions and dreams. BAIL OUT the American Dream. Fund social renewal, rather than fiscal removal.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Book Cart, we love you!!!

Love is in the stars :-) This exclamation was shouted across the yard at us as we delivered books today. The inmate had just come out of a Minimum House. We hope his 320 "cellies" felt the love, too.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Brains Behind Jails Service!

Who fills all those requests, keeping her trained eye on the stacks, on the loading dock, on donations, on discards? The Brains Behind the Jails Service rarely gets to see the happy faces of those who receive items she has filled by request. Her longevity with the Jails Service attests to her own job satisfaction and an obvious desire to challenge inmates to think clearly about their futures.

Since we must constantly remind inmates that we fill only educational and books-in-series requests, we find out a lot about our readers' intellectual quests and educational levels. We convey this knowledge back to the office and discuss our readers' needs and determine what we can realistically provide!

Library colleagues and patrons might be surprised to learn how enterprising and practical inmates are. Favorite subjects are small-business start-up material, computer literacy and spelling books, current events and politics, as well as every classic fiction or social science text imaginable. We should not forget to mention the wildly popular, "How to write Love Poems and Love Letters," or Disney drawing patterns!

We transport all these to "The Brains Behind the Operation" at the office, keeping our eyes peeled all the while for material we know will fly off the bookcart into eager hands.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

All Points Bulletin: Missing Jails Van!

Imagine having to go on safari to find a 1995 Chevy Safari! That's just what happened at our County Repair facilities the other day. No one could find our broken-down van.

Returning from a day at the Jail, our trusty vehicle broke down on a busy section of the highway. We were instantly whisked to safety by the CHP Towing Service. Then the fun began. The County contracts out its towing service to a trustworthy company, with agents in many states. Press 6 for our county in California, Press 7 for Iowa.

In time, a truck showed up to tow the van to a County Repair shop. After the driver attached the wheels and hopped in the cab with me, we started toward the Library--where I was to be dropped off.

An incident from my father's life popped into mind. Never one to sit silent in a cab with a total stranger, I related the story. During WW2, dad was a flight instructor in the Army Air Corps. He was dispatched from Mississippi to Kentucky with a glider in tow. At some point over Kentucky the glider floated free from the plane and they arrived at the airfield without it. With a chuckle, I recounted this incident to the tow-truck driver. I was sure all his tow-ees had arrived safely at their repair stations.

Little did I know how prophetic my anecdote would be. The tow truck arrived at one of the three repair facilities at 6:00, several hours after closing. (So the driver had no place to leave the van.) Did he take it to another yard with a later quittin' time? That was a possibility. But no one knew. No one knew where the van was for days. Posses were sent out scouting neighborhoods around the yards to find a lonely Jails Van. No luck!

Two days later, the van was located. The driver had squirreled the 16-foot vehicle away at his facility, presumably where no one could SEE it. Now it's sittin' pretty on it's hydraulic lift, gettin' a new fuel pump or alternator. We HOPE!

Did I mention the County Neurosurgeon had contracted out it's future appointments for Brain Surgery? Call 1-800-where's my head!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Building a Democratic Community...One Book at a Time!

Librarians in both public and academic spheres provide better service if they respect Experts and have expertise themselves. But Experts should not have the final word on which books are destined for your library shelves. End-users should be consulted all along the way. There are compelling reasons why this is so that go to the heart of democratic communities.

Why look beyond the Experts?

It is easy to understand why Experts have clout. Materials selection is a communal effort and it is difficult to get pesky, opinionated librarians to agree on quality unless some recognized authority issues a pronouncement: This is a must-buy! Reviews and ratings carry weight based on the author’s presumed authority in a subject area or within the publishing field.

Richard Rubin offers a word of caution, challenging librarians to look beyond fixed authorities in their efforts to establish balanced collections. He counsels them to promote the broadest as well as "latest" knowledge.

"We believe those sources we think are cognitive authorities—others we reject. What sources have the greatest cognitive authority for librarians? Are they those prepared by famous publishers like Harvard University Press or the New England Journal of Medicine?.... Are librarians in danger of censoring materials because they regard some authors or publishers as low in cognitive authority (although other groups may not regard them as such)? Although librarians often characterize themselves as objective information providers, their attitudes toward what constitutes knowledge have profound effect on their ability to serve the entire citizenry. (Rubin, 42-43).

Experts appeal to librarians because of the authority and power ascribed to them. Well-meaning librarians reason that end-users should welcome information because experts recommend it.

This type of librarian sets the tone for the profession. The advertisement-laden pages of Library Journal and other trade journals meet their collection needs. Professional organizations spring up to serve these property managers, as marketers and image consultants queue up to make the "library package" attractive.

Beyond "User Preferences"

Mutual respect was the foundation of the very “equal access” policies adopted by A.L.A. and promulgated to libraries around the country from whence such policies came! Experts were only one part of the equation.

The scale has been tipped. Legitimate authorities (domain experts) have been cozened and beguiled by corporate interests that only let certain information flow forth. End-users become zombie consumers or information addicts hooked into a particular subset of data that has been marketed to them ludicrously as their "User Preferences."

In this scenario, Librarians collect and disseminate the works of "Experts" merely as intellectual property managers, guiding people through complex systems where the censorship has already taken place. New strategic plans force this change upon the profession and ask for "cooperation." Or they are invited to hear guest speakers say unimaginable changes wrought by technology will sweep your jobs away. So “get over it.”(Wagner, 2007). Such speakers imply, “Do not object to the marketing model coming your way.”

Don't Rush Me!

Are these “new” librarians the free-thinkers they used to be—helping others to weigh authorities and think for themselves? If the profession is "too rushed" to stop and question or defy the accepted authorities (including management gurus,) one must ask, "Who is doing the rushing and why are they doing it?

Library staff who have been serving their particular communities assiduously for over two centuries (public collections are part of most American towns,) are told they need a face-lift. These same folks have been improving service in response to community need as communities changed, yet they are harangued by these consultants to “Get over” old ways of doing things. (Wagner, 2007). "Old models of service don't work." Libraries are warned to celebrate consumerism or fade into obscurity and disrepair. Information Consumption is in, Learning is out.

It's all about Greed. End-users are overwhelmed into accepting changes in their Public Institutions that are the creations of publicists and marketers--not public-spirited panels of the patrons, themselves. How did these people wrest the project of Public Libraries from the People they serve. Why do Management Gurus advise us to transform libraries to serve sleek "Information Seekers" with a high-tech warehouse, trimming collections according to the latest trends--diminishing democracy in the process?

Easy to Ignore

Despite their egalitarian shtick, many librarians behave as if they distrust the selection criteria or intelligence-level of the public they serve. They fear that too much “democratization” or public input will dumb down or halt the selection process. It is too much bother to create vendor agreements with small, independent presses or offer something unproven, perhaps controversial, to users. Some librarians don’t want the “wrong kind of people” to have free access or the “wrong kind of experts” to appear on their shelves.

Distrust is easy to institutionalize because end-users (and small publishers) lack authority. In an environment of distrust, customers attempt to gain power through challenges and complaints. End-users pit themselves against the Library establishment and isolation and egos grow large on both sides. "Experts" are called in to mediate the struggle. Over time, an imbalance of power between End-users and Experts causes erosion of public support and sabotage of funding proposals. The money that was always there for public libraries magically disappears.

Geez, Experts are People, too!

Are we too hard on the Experts. Aren't they people, too? Experts are People with fat paychecks, whose every word is tweaked by their Publishers. The Publishers rule out anyone or any idea that will harm their profits or divert their agenda.

As the economic divide grows between End-user and Expert, we seem to hear more and more about the personal lives of these "Experts." After we learn their tales of personal hardship, we can't help buying their books or accepting the publisher's agenda. This personalization is just a rhetorical ploy to solicit agreement from an audience. Rhetoric teaches us that each audience must trust its source, and the propaganda value of this cozy relationship between expert and publishers is all too clear.

Most Experts have access to publishers and media outlets and many librarians confuse this access with authority, itself. “If experts are cited in such and such a journal, or publish with some recognized university press, we should own them.” If writers snuggle up on Oprah's couch, there must be merit in their writing." Many selectors never look beyond the barrage of credentials; nor do they concern themselves with future trends or past concerns of the subject, itself. Their own philosophers try to stifle our questions with insulting books like Bloom's, "The Closing of the American Mind," showing how Americans were casualties of "Openness."

This is not dumbing down from the Masses but dumbing down from the Elite! This philosophy rose to keep us down, to render End-Users powerless before the Elite Masters who sense a loss of ideological control. Philosopher, Leo Strauss, is often cited as an Expert by neo-conservative writers and politicians. He favored using religion--not out of belief in its principles--but for its salutory controlling influence on a population. Give me a platonic break. Socrates didn't suck hemlock so that such prevarication should masquerade as "public-mindedness!"

Passive librarians are the perfect agents of this pseudo-intellectual Big Brother. Central ideological planning is not needed in a society whose librarians purchase only what the public is meant to hear and read. Superficial diversity—many languages, many ethnicities—can mask an underlying sameness in the point of view. There may be lip service to egalitarian values but no true democratic equality.


The unresolved problem is that end-users, library patrons, were once respected by librarians as individuals on a quest to educate themselves. The atmosphere and collection of libraries fostered this respect for the "common person." Democratic decision-making weighed "authorities" and chose between them for the benefit of the end-user or citizen.

John Buschman is a strong advocate for a process that hands power and authority to the library user, because he believes libraries “embody an essential element of democracy. He sees them as

"a place where the ideal of unfettered communication and investigation exists in rudimentary form, allowing for critical and rational discussion of the issues of the day. Further, our various collections—at least in the ideal we’re assigned to ethically strive for—represent the variety of arguments over the public’s issues and democratic culture over time, implicitly refuting notions of once-and-for-all solutions. In other words, libraries embody the turbulent discourse of a democracy and its culture. (Buschman, 2005)."

The author goes on to show how library managers and public officials who “recast the purpose” of public institutions in “economic terms” have undermined the democratic functions that libraries, schools and museums once served.

"Like education, our field has been called upon to play a ‘crucial’ role in bringing the information society and the new economy about, but without the public funding support for that expanded (and essentially economic) mission….[W]e have carefully imitated the business management fashions, fads, and tactics appropriate to adapting to information capitalism. In the process, we have rhetorically transformed library users into ‘customers’ and then adopted the corollary business practices of marketing and public relations, adopted the market model of ‘competition’ with each other and our bookstore imitators….” (Buschman, 8)"

Buschman casts a critical eye on those things that have been deemed “necessary to keep libraries alive for that “diverse audience” craving the underlying sameness. He cites “(purely popular collections, coffee bars, no retrospective collections, an emphasis on the economically-useful electronic resources)….” (Buschman, 10)

The author does not single out these changes because he resents libraries that cater to public demand. He questions what forces have prompted the change. He wisely warns that such “obeisance” to a marketing philosophy cannot sustain the long-term deliberative process of self-education which creates an informed citizenry. He may have taken Rubin’s warning to heart. He laments the loss of the responsive, responsible citizen and he challenges librarians to select materials and create spaces that will bring the public spirit back to life.

Experts and authorities have always been consulted in the selection process. They will continue to be consulted as librarians shape collections and select information for end-users. But excellent service and high circulation might depend on critical thinking skills as much as on business savvy. End users have meaningful contributions to make in this process. Librarians must include their input in creative ways and strategize on their behalf.

Retrieved from Document: Who's Boss: Experts or End-users? (Academic Paper. Hess, 2007.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Request we can't Honor

We received a letter from an inmate asking us to refrain from bringing books with sex and violence into the jail environment. His goal was less about moral reform than psychological well-being. He said that literature can damage the minds of the readers so as to cause more harm to the minds or elicit more illicit activity from those who are caught up in "The Game."

Our library service to jail does have some limitations, but it is not structured as a program for psychological self-improvement. We cannot assume that reading books with sex and violence (which often include hard-hitting lessons on the moral repercussions of one's acts,) damage readers' minds. We follow A.L.A.'s guidelines for library service to special populations and bring the full range of material available in a public library. Even if fiction has not become established as classic and morally uplifting, it deserves a chance to be read.

The real pity is that many voices are censored by simply falling through the cracks of the publishing world. Moral clarity might be hiding out there in some amazing minds, but we will never hear it. These cracks in the tolerant surface of the publishing world continue to suck down dissenting voices and alternate views.

Contrary to our best intentions, censorship does occur. The Jail Administration and some Deputies occasionally ask us to censor certain books for their perceived effect on morale or because they are being used to break rules and subvert authority. This kind of censorship is rare and, on occasion, we offer a rebuttal and give reasons why the books have been popular and pose no threat. Sometimes we lose.

Our distressed inmate concluded with a request we can honor: "Please bring books like the Dancing Wu-Li Masters." We'll do our darnedest to satisfy his book request, as it falls within our guidelines of honoring requests for educational literature. We would gladly offer him the best non-fiction self-help and philosophy our budget can buy.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Labeling "The Poor"

For many years, marauding bands
came to the border of our land,
but could not pass the place called Avengel.

One day the bands broke through the wall
with spurs and whips and cursing calls
they won the day, and ended our Self-Rule.

The strong were sent to fill their jails.
The weak were poisoned at their wells.
But death was not the final scourge;

A final desecration lay in store.
Survivors were renamed, "The Poor,"
and asked to show the victors gratitude.

For this, we rose up from our cells
and towns and cities we rebelled!
To thank "The Rich" is more than we can do!

Dan's 2-Cents: Aren't we all Poor? Aren't we all inwardly the same, with threats of Outside Invasion heaped upon us to divide our strength and weaken our resolve? This poem is a call for Self-Rule. Only with the restoration of Self-Rule will we have Sufficient Funding.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Detectives were hired... to determine which books have the least appeal to inmate readers. This is a difficult call, but seventies sci-fi often tops the list. It is a really hard sell.

However, our sleuths recently discovered a book cart that was completely empty except for two "Romances:" Linda Howard's White Lies and Christine Feehan's Dark Challenge. (300 men rejected these hot titles. Of course, a sneaky "podworker" could have squirreled them away for a little private reading in the "book closet.")

What are two puzzled Librarians to think? The staff cannot assume that Howard and Feehan are destined for the dust heap. NO!! Someone will treasure these tomes! Just listen to the blurbs on the back covers:

"Something is different. Even unconscious, this man is tougher, rougher than the man she remembers. He doesn't remember anything, but his effect on her is intense... sensual... uncontrollable...." White Lies

"Julian Savage was golden. Powerful. But tormented. For the brooding hunter walked alone, always alone, far from his Carpathian kind....When Julian heard Desari sing, rainbows swamped his starving senses...." Dark Challenge

Would YOU take home this purple prose? Hmm...on a lonely night, well, ...naahh. The quest for rejected books continues, so look for future installments of The Left Behind (on the Cart) Series.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Jails Librarian assists with
Re-Entry EXPO

Many inmates enjoy library services behind bars but never use their local libraries once they are released from jail. In an effort to promote the relevance of public libraries, the Jails Librarian spent last Friday, 2/22/08, at the Re-Entry EXPO.

This event was hosted by Inmate Services, the educational arm of the Alameda County Sheriff's Department. The EXPO showed the power of information available to ordinary job-seekers and students. Each of the booths offered tools to help participants help themselves.

Inmates approached the Library Table, full of questions about starting small businesses, going back to school, or entering the job market. Participants benefited from our Librarian's expertise in Business Reference. Staff gathered books from the County Libraries' collections as well as best sellers from local bookstores. These books were on display for browsing, with printed handouts available for inmates to take back to their cells. In this way, the wealth of information will be passed to others who could not attend. Some of the information came from the following sources:

  • Small Business Administration provides a number of useful tools for Job Seekers and those who want to start their own businesses.
  • The Reading For Life Program at the local Library educates inmates about Life Skills, Literacy and Re-entering the Community.
  • Two regional Educational programs are especially popular with people leaving jail. Project Bridge helps people start back to school and brush up on basic Math and English skills. Project Rebound assists people with some Community College credits who are interested in finishing College.

All in all, the EXPO was quite a success and the Library was happy to provide practical help on the path to Re-entry.

for additional information on the Expo, follow the link to an article at the Contra Costa Times


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Muchas Gracias, San Lorenzo!

Tucked away behind several other boxes, the jails staff discovered A WHOLE BOX of Spanish-language donations. We can shed our chagrined, apologetic faces and smile at our Spanish speakers, offering a broader range of choices than usual.

Branches may be surprised to learn that Jails needs all your adult-level Spanish-language discards in paperback format. Books that need a bit of mending are welcome.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Inmate tells it like it WAS

A gentleman in his late 50's was deeply-moved by a comprehensive biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. This man had spent his formative years in the South and the book brought back his childhood and rekindled his sense of history. He cried while reading the book because the pain and the high hopes were so vivid to him. It just so happens his childhood coincided with a pivotal era in American history.

Days before the California Primary, he said this book reminded him that old values should not be tossed away as African-Americans move forward. He lamented that some of the younger inmates don't know anything about King or his message. The Librarian speaking with him said he is now the teacher. With the book in his possession, the history is HIS OWN.

Too much shelf space???

Here are some photos of the Collection after the Staff goes book-buying. All the books are lined up and dotted to distinguish their genres. Yippee!

As you can see, however, several genres are so popular & pricey, surrounding shelves sit empty. Any donated Westerns, African-American and Spanish-language materials would keep the books snug and happy.

The wealth of choices we DO have is thanks to our great benefactors. Once again, muchas gracias, xie-xie, danke, thanks a ton to Half-Price Books in Fremont and the Friends of Dublin Library.