Monthly Archives: September 2008

Food for thought

Academic librarian blogger Iris has a fascinating post today entitled “Three Inches to the Left.”  Go and read it.  You’ll be glad you did.


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Unintended consequences

I’ve had a varied career.  I come to librarianship after turns in sales and sales management, the brokerage industry, and higher education.  It’s the stint as a stockbroker that I’ve been channeling these past weeks as the financial industry slides into the abyss.

I know what mortgage-backed securities are, though they weren’t as prevalent when I was a broker.  I rather figured that sub-prime mortgages were a bad idea when I started seeing the ads on television.  (“Own your dream home!  Only 1.5% interest!”)  What I wasn’t too clear on was how all of this came about.

Back in my youth I would have loved to purchase a home of my own, but didn’t have the money for a down-payment.  I also made less than would have been necessary to qualify for a loan.  All of the sudden, though, people who seemingly fell into that same boat were buying houses.  Big ones, too.

An old article in the LA Times sheds some light on this situation.  From May 31, 1999 comes this story.  The story begins:

It’s one of the hidden success stories of the Clinton era. In the great housing boom of the 1990s, black and Latino homeownership has surged to the highest level ever recorded. The number of African Americans owning their own home is now increasing nearly three times as fast as the number of whites; the number of Latino homeowners is growing nearly five times as fast as that of whites.

These numbers are dramatic enough to deserve more detail. When President Clinton took office in 1993, 42% of African Americans and 39% of Latinos owned their own home. By this spring, those figures had jumped to 46.9% of blacks and 46.2% of Latinos.

The really pertinent paragraphs come later in the piece (emphasis mine):

Lenders also have opened the door wider to minorities because of new initiatives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac–the giant federally chartered corporations that play critical, if obscure, roles in the home finance system. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy mortgages from lenders and bundle them into securities; that provides lenders the funds to lend more.

In 1992, Congress mandated that Fannie and Freddie increase their purchases of mortgages for low-income and medium-income borrowers. Operating under that requirement, Fannie Mae, in particular, has been aggressive and creative in stimulating minority gains. It has aimed extensive advertising campaigns at minorities that explain how to buy a home and opened three dozen local offices to encourage lenders to serve these markets. Most importantly, Fannie Mae has agreed to buy more loans with very low down payments–or with mortgage payments that represent an unusually high percentage of a buyer’s income. That’s made banks willing to lend to lower-income families they once might have rejected.

Ah.  Congress, in an effort to help lower-income folks and minorities buy their own homes, mandated that lenders offer loans to folks that they normally might not have.  I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time, but there probably was a reason the banks weren’t lending to some of these folks (like me) who didn’t make enough to pay the mortgage.

More pertinent information (again, emphasis mine):

The top priority may be to ask more of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two companies are now required to devote 42% of their portfolios to loans for low- and moderate-income borrowers.

Well.  We told Freddie and Fannie they had to do this.  And now we’re mad that they did.

Certainly greed played a part.  And there’s plenty of blame to go around.  But it looks as though Congress itself inadvertently got us into this mess.  Now they need to get us out.  Hopefully, the lesson they will have learned is that they need to interfere as little as possible in business, since they tend to muddy the waters.  Unfortunately, Congress isn’t known for its learning ability.

With all of this economic turmoil, libraries will no doubt see an increase in business.  Libraries seem to do better when the economy takes a downturn: people looking for jobs, going back to school and doing research, looking for community.  It’s our turn to help.

Hat tip – Carpe Diem.

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Constitution Day

Today is Constitution Day.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

We memorized the preamble in grade school and I can recite it to this day.  I wonder – do our kids do this anymore?  If not, they should.

If you haven’t done so for a while, go and read it.

And blessings on those incredible men that crafted this magnificent document:

Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names.

Go Washington – President and deputy from Virginia

New Hampshire – John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman

Massachusetts – Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King

Connecticut – Wm Saml Johnson, Roger Sherman

New York – Alexander Hamilton

New Jersey – Wil Livingston, David Brearley, Wm Paterson, Jona. Dayton

Pensylvania – B Franklin, Thomas Mifflin, Robt Morris, Geo. Clymer, Thos FitzSimons, Jared Ingersoll, James Wilson, Gouv Morris

Delaware – Geo. Read, Gunning Bedford jun, John Dickinson, Richard Bassett, Jaco. Broom

Maryland – James McHenry, Dan of St Tho Jenifer, Danl Carroll

Virginia – John Blair, James Madison Jr.

North Carolina – Wm Blount, Richd Dobbs Spaight, Hu Williamson

South Carolina – J. Rutledge, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney, Pierce Butler

Georgia – William Few, Abr Baldwin

Attest: William Jackson, Secretary

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Random Question of the Day

When did the use of turn signals become optional?


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In Memoriam

Never forget.

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On college students

School started last week, and there are a few things I’ve observed that I find interesting:

  • Students print everything. We don’t charge for printing at the moment, and it’s appalling how much the students are printing and the sheer waste that is being generated.  We keep being told how people are doing more and more online, but the reality is that people really like reading from paper.  It’s portable, you can mark stuff you need to reference later, and it can be taken anywhere.  Frankly, I’m not sure this bodes well for things like the e-book and the Kindle.
  • Online resources are job security. No one knows how to find stuff in these databases, which makes me look like Wonder Woman when I do.  Not that I’m complaining, mind you.
  • Reference requests come from whatever tool is handy. Sometimes students pop their head in my office and ask a question.  Sometimes they email.  Sometimes (rarely) they call.  The few who have discovered my instant message ID will use that.  The most recent was a wall-to-wall conversation on Facebook.  I must admit, that one surprised me.  When I asked him why Facebook and not IM, he replied, “Because I have a record of it here.”  Hmmm.  Interesting point.

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Palin update


This story is starting to gather speed.  Interestingly, one of the pieces that has gotten attention is a comment in Jessamyn’s blog – that she refutes in the piece – that is purportedly a list of the books Palin has tried to ban.  (It’s actually a list of the most banned books in the US.)

The Anchorage Daily News has an article about the issue, and there is an interesting exchange in the piece.

When the matter came up for the second time in October 1996, during a City Council meeting, Anne Kilkenny, a Wasilla housewife who often attends council meetings, was there.

Like many Alaskans, Kilkenny calls the governor by her first name.

“Sarah said to Mary Ellen, ‘What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?” Kilkenny said.

“I was shocked. Mary Ellen sat up straight and said something along the line of, ‘The books in the Wasilla Library collection were selected on the basis of national selection criteria for libraries of this size, and I would absolutely resist all efforts to ban books.'”

Palin didn’t mention specific books at that meeting, Kilkenny said.

Palin herself, questioned at the time, called her inquiries rhetorical and simply part of a policy discussion with a department head “about understanding and following administration agendas,” according to the Frontiersman article.

Hmmm.  There are a few interesting pieces about this.

As a former City Librarian, had a mayor or council member or anyone else asked me that question, I would have answered a query about “removing some books from the collection” with the procedures the library had in place to challenge a selection.  If the librarian’s response is accurately reported, it’s haughty at best.

This is also a different question than previously reported, in which Palin purportedly asked how to ban books from the collection.  (Of course, nothing raises the immediate ire of the library community like the “B” word.)

It was not unusual for me to be educating the various and sundry political members of the community on what the library did, how we did it, and our reasoning behind it.  Why did we have a copy of Mein Kampf? Harry Potter?  The Da Vinci Code?

Instead of holding forth on our superlative reasoning citing national collection criteria (which wouldn’t have been a valid argument in the eyes of our folks, anyway) I viewed these queries as an opportunity to educate and inform. Here’s why we chose this particular book.  Here’s how we make our decisions.  Here’s how someone can challenge that decision and how we go about doing the review.  Here’s how someone can recommend we add a book to the library’s collection.

There’s a lot to question in this story, the librarian’s attitude included.

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More information, please

I don’t tend to get into politics too much on this site.  However, there has been much written in the last few days about a Time magazine article in which Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is quoted as questioning whether a book could be banned at the public library.  The pertinent paragraph is:

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

Unfortunately, that’s all we learn about the situation.

I have a few questions: Was that all that was said?  How did the librarian answer?  Was the answer sufficient?

When I was the public library director in a small western city, I would get a variation on this question fairly regularly.  The questioner was usually in a position of authority in the city or county – city council members, county board members, the city manager – and was usually as a result of a question or complaint that they had received from a constituent on a book that the library had.  Once we discussed the function of a public library and collection development (as opposed to collection development at a school library), what steps the constituent could take to challenge a choice, and why all of this was important, the discussion was usually over.

We get none of this in the paragraph.  We learn that the library director was threatened with being fired for not giving her “full support.”  What does that mean?  Was it over this issue or another?

Library professionals are about information – and not just pieces of it.  Let’s get the whole story before we grab the pitchfolks pitchforks.


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