The Valid Response You Entered is Not Valid; or, WTF is with the Louisville Free Public Library Automated Phone?

August 9, 2008

The Louisville Free Public Library has a cool service that informs you by automated phone call or email when a requested book has arrived at a branch for pickup. But when you try to end the call, you get the following weirdness:

Library robot: “Press 9 to end this call.”

Me: (Presses 9 on phone).

Library robot: “That is not a valid response.”



What the Library Means To Me; or Let the Heads Roll; or For Once, I Told Ya So

November 7, 2007

Yesterday, the voters of Louisville staged a tax revolt, and despite what all the opinion surveys were saying prior to the election, I went on record last week predicting the Library tax would go down to defeat. And it did. That’s because, unlike all the privileged and well-appointed elites in the Library Yes TV ads (Mayor Abramson, David Jones, Denny Crum and the like) who urged all of us paycheck-to-paycheck working schlubs to give up yet more of our shrinking salaries, the rest of us at ground level were listening to our neighbors. The neighors who, like me, are paying too much for health insurance, gasoline, milk, home heating and all the other things that somehow the inflation statistics never seem to realistically indicate. As I said before, I consider myself on the left of the political spectrum, but on this issue I bonded with my conservative friends. Based on the responses to the vote by the library PR folks, I’m still wondering if they really got the message of what happened yesterday. They had a freeze-dried ready response to make it sound like they won, even though the tax was shot down handily. “It’s a win, because at least we got people talking about the library.” Well, maybe so. But at the same time the library keepers were still fast to shoot down Rep. Hal Heiner’s bond plan. Like the opposers of the 86/64 plan, such people have their views set down in dogmatic stone. Heiner’s plan might be all you get, so don’t be so arrogantly rigid. It’s best to go for it while the interest in the libraries is high, or the momentum will be lost as people become preoccupied with the other ongoing realities of their lives. The message of the voters yesterday was clear, and it is this: “We want better libraries, but we don’t want a tax increase to do it.” That can be done. But to do it, some stubborn people will have to let go of their coveted plan A, and stop dismissing all other plans as unworkable. They are not unworkable. So grow up and get to work.


A Library Chump Lives Here: Or How the Louisville Free Public Library Is Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

October 30, 2007

library-chump-jpeg.jpgThe Louisville Free Public Library had me.

But now they’ve lost me.

A week from now Louisville voters will face a ballot referendum asking them to vote yes or no to allot $40 million a year for library operations via a newly created library tax district.

And if this proposal had been presented honestly to the public, I would have endorsed it wholeheartedly.

But it has not been presented honestly.

And so I am voting ‘no.’

Does the library need more than the paltry $16.5 million operational budget it receives a year from the Metro Louisville government? Absolutely it does.

But after years of mounting lies by my government, I have had it with lies and deceptions and obfuscations and misrepresentations.

I am not looking at this as a Democratic vs. Republican thing, or a liberal vs. a conservative issue.

I consider myself on most points a liberal. And I am not opposed to a new tax for the library. I love the library. I use it a lot. I love what it stands for and represents. I see it as a bastion of knowledge against the ignorant barbrian hordes. I want our library to be better, to be better stocked and able to service the community.

I am just opposed to this particular tax. And particularly opposed to the way in which the propaganda campaign for it has proceeded.

I feel duped. And I don’t like that. Not anymore.

Instead of straight talk, we’ve gotten the kind of sleaze addressed in this lengthy article in the Leo Weekly. Or in this one at the Courier-Journal website.

Rather than honestly tell us how much this is really going to cost and how the “old” library budget line money will be used, we get soothing pablum such as “it’s only a two-tenths of 1 percent” increase in taxes.

That’s a whopping 9 percent occupational tax increase, and it’s on top of the existing occupational tax. As a result, the old $16.5 million library budget line will become a free-money windfall for the city government.

I would support the tax if this existing $16.5 million continued to be for library use. With that $16.5 million deducted from the $40 million the library says it needs, that would leave $23.5 million left to be raised. I would be more willing to support a tax increase of $23.5 million to make up the difference, instead of allowing the city to grab a $16.5 million windfall through deception–which is what will happen if this referendum passes.

In other words, we will be paying what we already pay ($16.5 million, scooped up for something else) in addition to the new $40 million.

Do the math. We were paying $16.5 million. Now, with the city money and the library money combined. We will be paying $56.5 million.

If the library only needs the difference of $23.5 million, as I’ve demonstrated, why aren’t we being offered the option to pay that in new taxes instead?

Because the pigs are at the trough. That’s why.

Oh, I know I sound like such a Republican here. And it pains me to sound so, because I really do detest them. But on this issue–for once–our GOP friends are correct. And for once I have to grudgingly admit that I agree with them.

I want a fair, directly targeted tax, not a windfall deceptively hidden within the convoluted context of a tortuously worded referendum.

And let’s face it, like most families, ours is living paycheck to paycheck, and this amount of money is going to cut into meat and bone. We’re talking food money here. This is no small consideration.

The other thing that has rubbed me wrongly about this campaign is the way children have been exploited in selling it.

As all propagandists know, Hitler kissed children, therefore Hitler must be a nice guy.

The library ain’t Hitler, so why are they choosing Goebbels-like tactics to exploit children in their pro-referendum campaign?

You know all those thousands of “A Library Champion Lives Here” signs you see in yards all over Louisville?

I was certain that those signs meant that that particular property owner was “championing” the upcoming library referendum and supported the library and its efforts.

That confounded me because I was certain there had to be regulations barring the library from spending any of its budget for self-serving political campaigns.

As it happens, there are such restrictions.

And the way the library got around that restriction was this:

Have a summer reading campaign involving thousands of children. Once the kids read the required number of books, “reward” them with a big sign in their yard recognizing that “A Library Champion Lives Here.”

Voila! Two birds with one stone killed. The kid gets “recognition” while the library gains mass billboard face-time with the public, using a cleverly crafted message just generic enough to mean more than one thing–timed just perfectly and “coincidentally” to appear just as the big vote approaches.

Ask anyone on the street if they know squat about the summer reading program, and then ask them if they know about the library tax initiative. Then ask them what they think those signs are about?

See what I mean?

Go to the library website at or into the foyer of any local branch and look at how the yard sign campaign has been pictorialized to further exploit the kids by featuring their guileless, innocent selves standing next to these signs.

Remember, these kids library-champ-kids-cropped.jpgdon’t know what they’re doing. They were told to stand next to a sign to have their pictures taken.

They were told this was an “honor.”

I find it sick. And unlike the library, I’ve cropped off the kids’ faces in this picture so as not to further exploit them.

Next time, if you want to “reward” kids, give them a nice plaque and the gift of reading and knowledge: a $5 certificate to Borders or to the zoo or to IMAX or something. I guarantee they’d like it better. And we wouldn’t have it all shoved in our faces for manipulative purposes.

So masters of slick propaganda at the library, forget the Madison Avenue tactics and get back to work. When the referendum goes down to surprise defeat next week, and you wonder what went wrong, read and think deeply about my message.

Go back to the drawing board, don’t let the city take a dime, and craft an honest tax, honestly presented.

-Evan G