Magazine article Information Today

The Washington Monument Syndrome

Magazine article Information Today

The Washington Monument Syndrome

Article excerpt

George Hartzog, the seventh National Park Service director, served during the Nixon administration and was the first such official ever fired from his position.

Despite the fact that his department continued to increase the amount of property under its purview, the park service started 1969 with a smaller staff and a reduced maintenance budget. Hartzog warned secretary of the interior Stewart Udall that the service had no choice but to close all the national parks 2 days a week, which it did, including such popular venues as the Grand Canyon and the Washington Monument.

Legislators from both parties condemned Hartzog, and he received no support from the executive branch under Nixon. He anticipated being fired, but he achieved his goal.

Though closing the parks had been a drastic measure, it did encourage citizens to complain to their elected representatives. The end result? Congress reversed its budget decision.

Hartzog's strategy proved to be so successful that The Washington Post gave it a name: The Washington Monument Syndrome.

Finding the Connection

Has anybody else noticed the growing disconnect between public officials and public libraries?

The economy is in the toilet. People are losing their jobs, their homes are being foreclosed, they're dropping out of college because they can't afford tuition, and they're declaring bankruptcy because of catastrophic medical bills. The elderly whose retirement savings have been decimated are moving in with their children. The crime rate is growing, food stamp applications are way up, and guess what? So is public library use.

No one should be scratching his or her head over the reason why the local library has been looking as if it is Times Square on New Year's Eve lately. People who can no longer afford to buy books, movies, and CDs are borrowing them from the library. And even those who are still reasonably solvent are nervous, squeezing every dollar until the eagle screams. Why buy that latest best-seller when you can add your name to the reserve list for it at the library? Your name will come up eventually, and it won't kill you to wait a couple of weeks.

Getting by With Less

When people decide to (or are forced to) economize, it's common for them to drop the cable TV subscription and turn off the high-speed internet. If you have a laptop, maybe you can float around and find free wireless access near your home. If you don't have a laptop, there are computers with high-speed internet at the public library. But we're talking about a finite resource here. There are only so many computers and so many hours a day that the library is open, and maybe the branch nearest you is only open 2 days a week now. Or maybe it has been forced to cut its evening hours. Or perhaps it is no longer open on the weekends, which is the only time you can go. Or maybe the library nearest you has just been shuttered.

I had knots in my stomach when I read in the newspaper a few weeks ago that the Clearwater (Fla.) Public Library System (CPLS), where I spent a number of years working as a reference librarian, was in danger of losing three branches. Mind you, the CPLS only has five branches, including the main library downtown, and they are heavily used. But the mayor and the city manager, facing a growing budget deficit, were talking about closing three libraries. …

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