NY Times Librarian of the Year

Congratulations to Jinny Baeckler director of Plainsboro Public Library in New Jersey.

“We’re the place where community begins,” Ms. Baeckler explains. “The library’s a safe place, it’s a trusted place and we do cool things here.”
She also says the library she runs is unique in its focus on customer service.
“We have very high service standards,” she says. “That is our job — we’re public servants. The staff here is trained in that, and they know I expect it.”
And she has a few predictions about the future of libraries in general, too.
“They will get stronger and bigger and more wonderful,” she says. “The idea that the book is dead is ridiculous.”

You tell ’em sister!

Colonial Williamsburg: An Artifact of Popular Culture

During my senior year at college and for three years afterwards I worked at the living history museum Colonial Williamsburg. Although my days of wearing a tricorn hat and stockings (and showing of my well-developed calves) are long gone, I still try to keep up with what’s going on in CW and it’s place in popular culture. I regularly listen to the Colonial Williamsburg: Past and Present podcast which provides interesting “behind the scenes” interviews with the people who work at CW. The interviews are fun and interesting to listen to, especially when it’s someone I know.

A couple a days ago I stumbled across an article by Christopher Geist (someone I’ve actually met a couple of times) about Colonial Williamsburg’s place in popular culture. The article is an interesting summary of CW in movies, TV, books, collectibles, and toys — including the dreaded Felicity doll. There are a number of pictures of celebrities in Colonial Williamsburg but sadly no mention of my appearance on the NBC News overnight special on Christmas in Williamsburg.

While short on analysis, the article does have a good summary of Colonial Williamsburg’s popular appeal:

Popular culture artifacts are widely recognized and accepted by the general public as representing cultural importance and shared meanings. Like most aspects of popular culture, such artifacts are frequently commercialized, appear in the mass media, are generally understood and available to most members of the culture, and have the power to entertain, as well as to enlighten and educate. Though popular culture is generally associated with leisure time activities and frequently involves mass production and consumerism, it does not follow that the underlying meaning is trivial or easily forgotten. On the contrary, such popular culture artifacts as Colonial Williamsburg help to shape our understanding of our culture and its history.

Why is Colonial Williamsburg so frequently represented in the products of popular culture? In most instances, the creators of popular entertainments and consumer goods, as well as the consumers who patronize them, are drawn to the most conspicuous example in any given class of items. Colonial Williamsburg presents a generally accepted popular vision of colonial America, and it is the most prominent example of a living history museum village. Its presence is ubiquitous in popular culture materials, and it became the popular standard in the field of living history.

When I met Geist at Colonial Williamsburg he was a professor from Bowling Green State University with intentions of writing a book on popular culture in Colonial Williamsburg. I was looking for information about the book when I found this article, but sadly it does not seem that the book yet exists.

Big Box Chain Stores and Consumer Identity

An excerpt from the book Big Box Swindle: The Fight to Reclaim America from Retail Giants by Stacy Mitchell is available on AlterNet. In this article, Mitchell provides an interesting historical perspective on chain stores in America and how they encouraged people to think of themselves as consumers rather than citizens.

Most significantly, the chains continued to cultivate the consumer identity. The more people saw themselves as consumers-not producers, workers, or citizens-the less concerned they were about how the chains were impacting their livelihoods and their communities, and the more inclined they were to see the chains as satisfying an essential need for “quality, price, and better buying information.”


The post-war years saw the triumph of the consumer as the primary way in which Americans identified themselves and articulated their economic and political interests. The notion that the ownership structure of the economy ought to embody and support democratic values faded from view. Economic policy was no longer seen as an instrument for nurturing self-reliance and self-government, but for furthering efficiency and consumer welfare.

Reminds me of a stand-up comedian I saw long ago who predicted in the future we would all live in super malls and refer to one another as shopper like some kind of a consumer analogue to the French Revolution. “Good morning Shopper Smith!”

Civil Liberties Violations – Two Disturbing Articles

First, an opinion piece by Robert Sheer about Jose Padilla, a US citizen who has been held by the government for 3.5 years and tortured even though initial charges that Padilla plotted to detonate a “dirty bomb” have been dropped. This part of the article pretty much sums up why even in difficult times and under threat of terrorism we must stay true to our American ideals of justice:

The excuse for this heinous treatment of a U.S. citizen is the same as that given for an entire orgy of despicable treatment of prisoners held in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and a gulag archipelago of secret military facilities around the world: Our enemies, all linked through sophistry to the 9-11 terror attacks, are so vile and dangerous that the limitations on government power enshrined in our guiding documents and political culture no longer apply. Once the Twin Towers were knocked down, supposedly, we could no longer afford to be “nice guys” — as if the rule of law is an indulgence of only the most secure nations.

By that standard, any tyrant can justify the cruelest of actions by citing enemies, real or imagined, be it King George III blockading Boston Harbor to teach the rebellious colonists a lesson or Saddam Hussein killing Kurdish villagers after an assassination attempt on his life. The very uniqueness of our national experiment was the checks and balances put upon the government to prevent such convenient rationalizations for abuse of the individual. The Founding Fathers won a war, but their true contribution to human history was to tackle head-on the reality that humans and their institutions can so easily become that which they despise.

Even when an American is suspected of a “capital or infamous crime,” as was Padilla, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically says he still cannot “be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” That is why the Supreme Court finally forced the Bush administration to give Padilla his day in court.

In another article in Wired by Ryan Singel, it appears that anyone who has flown an airplane in the United States in the past five years has been subject to possibly illegal violations of privacy and freedom of movement by the Department of Homeland Security.

At the National Targeting Center, the ATS program harvests up to 50 fields of passenger data from international flights, including names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers, and uses watch lists, criminal databases and other government systems to assign risk scores to every passenger.

Though the government has provided few details, such a system could look at travel history, who the ticket was purchased from or what kind of car someone drives to attempt to figure out who is a likely terrorist threat.

When passengers deplane, Customs and Border Protection personnel then target the high scorers for extra screening. The notice says the data and the scores can be kept for 40 years, shared widely, and be used in hiring decisions. Travelers may neither see nor contest their scores.