Monday, June 14, 2004

History Lessons

Summer Reading season is upon us. This means that upwards of 200 children will soon descend upon the "liberry" on Mondays and Thursdays to read books, craft crafts, play games and get new library cards. (Unfortunately, the jury's still out on when exactly those new cards will be arriving. Today is in fact D-Day for our new regional, 15 county, cataloging and circulation computer system to go live, but as far as I know none of the libraries in the 15 counties actually have the new library cards they're supposed to start issuing. We'll somehow muddle through.)

That said, last week was sign-up week for Summer Reading. Mostly, it went pretty smooth and we only had a few of the usual complaints from irritable parents unwilling to jump through our oh so complicated process of "come to the library and sign your kid up, you've got an 8 day window in which to do so or you're out." We even had a giant sign printed up and laminated that we stuck in the yard of the library on stakes advertising the Summer Reading program to one and all. And, as is often the case with giant signs staked out within city limits, we had to get a permit in order to put it up. Fortunately, we have an in within the city department responsible for issuing such permits, so we got one right away. Unfortunately, the mayor got wind of it and threatened to walk up the hill to see whether the sign fit within the rigid guidelines of our town's historic character.

See, Town-A of the Town A/B/C Tri-Metro Area is something of a historic town. Part of its whole appeal is that it LOOKS like a historic town. This is due in large part to strict city ordinances governing how each building can appear, from architectural design to paint-color to lawn maintenance. Anything that falls outside of those boundaries is strictly prohibited. This isn't a town-wide ordinance, but does govern all the businesses in the down-town area. And as our library was constructed in 1834, we are even more definitely subject to the rules.

Mind you, I'm not really complaining. It's a system that seems to have worked and the town is quite the hopping tourist attraction due in no small part to it. Other towns in the area, where I live in Town-C, for instance, are actually far more historical but they don't have such ordinances. As a result, they are quite often look very ratty, soot covered and run-down.

However, when the mayor himself threatens to march up the hill and condemn a damn yard sign that's only going to be there for a week on the grounds that it might not look historic enough to match the town's character, it seems a bit much to me. It's not like we're colonial Williamsburg.

I suggested to Mrs. A that she tell the mayor to bite her historic ass, but she declined. Instead, she opted to just take the sign down in advance before it could be condemned.

It's just as well. We've already had well over 100 children sign up for Summer Reading, far more than last year. Granted, most of those kids are not going to show up every single week, but we have enough to keep us busy with the ones who will. The mayor probably did us a favor. We just don't have to like it.

We really don't have the worst of it. A local attorney we know has been fighting with the city for years over whether or not he can put up a sign on his office's property denoting his business. The city says he can put one up, but they're never happy with his choice of sign designs so they keep refusing to issue him a permit. His firm is also located in a semi-historic house which is in need of repainting. There is a list of a select few colors that any downtown structure can be painted and only two of those listed colors are allowed to be used on any one building. It has been suggested to the attorney that he should threaten to choose the two most ugly and contrasting colors from the list to use on his office.

See, as much as I agree with the need for such rules, I also agree with flaunting them to their very boundaries.

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An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.