Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hero Slays Librarian

Headline from yesterday's Novosibirsk Gazette--above:
"Warm air moves in from Minnesota--prepare swimwear."


After work yesterday I decided to do a little unscientific-but-bloggable public opinion research. I would ask twenty-five adults at the Eden Prairie Library to write down two numbers, in response to this:

For six years, Hamas had been firing rockets aimed at civilians in Israel. These illegal rockets killed almost twenty Israelis and wounded about 440, damaging property and causing great anxiety in Israel during that six-year period.

The Israel-Palestine conflict dramatically escalated on December 27, 2008; fighting has continued since then between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza.

Who is to blame for the escalation that started in late December? Using your best judgment, please assign a percentage of the blame for the recent escalation to each party. So you're going to write down 2 numbers. The 2 numbers must add up to 100.

Hamas is _____% to blame.
Israel is _____% to blame.

In dashing off the questionnaire, I tried to word the thing so that--if anything--it slants a bit pro-Israel, to my ear at least. (I didn't want Mitch Berg to accuse me of shilling for Osama.)

Why the library, you ask? I'd likely get a different demographic at the food court at Eden Prairie Center or at a coffee shop--and perhaps I could have completed the project there before getting thrown out by mall security. It was -6°F outside as I recall, and I felt like getting the grunt work finished and in my backpack so that I could go home and type it up for y'all.

The library had a key advantage, I thought: As a public place, I'd not even be breaking any silly rules. Needless to say, anybody who didn't want to participate would be entirely free to say no; even if they accepted my form, they'd still be free to opt out at any time. Their cooperation would be entirely voluntary--that's what I was thinking as I walked into the Eden Prairie Library at around 5 PM. I found a chair and left my backpack and jacket there.

I marched up to the librarians' help desk and set upon the only available librarian--a twentysomething tot--and explained my errand to him, hoping he'd say cool. Instead, he said he'd have to go clear it with Senior Librarian Ali Turner--and asked for a copy of my survey, to show her.

Some minutes later, Turner emerged from the mystery room where the librarians do their magical deeds. And she had bad news for me--informing me that Hennepin County Library has a policy against this kind of thing.

I told Turner that--the library being a public place--I would be breaking no law to say hello to a stranger, right? What's the difference? (Was I drugged, kidnapped and shunted off to Pyongyang this morning?) (Bummer trip!)

Here's when the bureucratic mentality really kicked in. Turner then--looking me in the eye--said, 'The library is not a public place.' (Yes she did!)

'Say what? It is too a public place, isn't it?'

'We refer to it as "a public setting,"' she ad-libbed. (Serious as cancer--that's what she said.)

Turner explained that I could conduct my survey outside--and gestured toward the lobby, but I knew she meant out in Siberia, under the ample porte cochère in front. This she confirmed.

So I told Turner I'd like to get that HCL policy statement in writing. I couldn't believe that folks are forbidden from learning what other people think about the Israel-Gaza conflict while at the library. (They should be free to hand out any survey they like--in the opinion of this wild-eyed libertarian.)

Turner agreed to provide me with the document. We would exchange calling cards and she would then contact me on Friday with the library's anti-surveying policy in writing. So we walked to our respective lairs, I donned jacket and backpack and returned to where we had been somewhat confrontationally speaking. As we exchanged cards, it occurred to me to ask her:

'Is the library a public place? Yes or no?'

'Well--when you put it that way...I suppose, yes,' she allowed.

'So earlier, when you told me "The library is not a public place" and I now agree that you were diametrically incorrect when you said that. Right?'

'Yes, that's right' she said.
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