Looking at Shame and Slipped Disks in an entirely different way

John Clark reflecting on a couple accomplishments from my checkered library career. One, The Publishers’ Hall of Shame, ended in 2008, but made a real impact on both the library and publishing world. It began while I was the mental health librarian at AMHI. I started noticing complaints by fellow Maine librarians about new books falling apart. They would get a brand new hardcover book, catalog it, check it out and a day or so later, the patron would return it with an angry or guilty look. The book would be split, separated into two halves held together by the spine.

As you might imagine, given the tight materials budgets most libraries had to work with, this was pretty distressing. When I offered to create a website listing books that fell apart quickly, the response was immediate and enthusiastic. To avoid any possible conflicts, I created it on my own personal website. It wasn’t long before the submissions started rolling in and it became clear there was a collective sense of frustration and powerlessness among librarians.

In short order, two other things happened that were pretty amazing and ultimately satisfying. First, I was asked if it would be okay to publicize what I was doing on other library listservs. I responded by saying that submissions from any library would be welcome. I hardly expected the wave of reports that followed. Not long after that, I got a phone call from one of the biggest printing firms in north America. It seemed that the book publishing industry was aware of the page and had started to have a level of concern about the specifics (title, publisher, number of copies reported).

The Hall of Shame was in existence for several years and I have to believe it got results as the number of books reported started dropping about six months after I had that conversation. I told the fellow that one simple change would get and keep them out of hot water. Use better glue. Skimping on it to save a few cents per book was backfiring on them. While they might be able to get away with cheap binding for casual readers, it was a deal breaker for libraries.

I have resurrected the pages where the reports were available here: http://www.hartland.lib.me.us/shame.html

The other project got its name from a description given to those of us who worked the evening shift at AMHI when I started there in 1970. Many of us partied after work and dated, sometimes for short periods of time, sometimes for a bit longer. We were all in our early twenties and uninterested in settling down, so we became ‘Interchangeable Parts.’

When libraries began lamenting the difficulty in obtaining replacement cassettes for audio books after one broke, I offered to house broken sets and maintain a list on the Hartland Library website. Since we had a new van delivery service in the state, it was easy to send broken sets to Hartland. I called it Maine’s Interchangeable Parts, or MIPS for short.

mips vhs

(I also handled VHS video extras as part of MIPS until DVDs killed them off)

A fair number of libraries sent their busted beauties and a couple times every month, I was able to send out something needed by another library. After several years, cassettes were pushed aside by CDs, so I began receiving and listing them as well. Eventually cassettes went away completely, but TV series on DVDs took their place.

When you’re talking about a set costing 30-70 dollars, getting a replacement disk can really help your budget and get a careless patron off the hook. In the past year, MIPS has evolved yet again. There’s a huge disparity in library budgets, not only in terms of population, but in location. The further north you get, the slimmer the material budget tends to be and schools are always in Tight City.

Fortunately, a number of larger libraries recognize this and when they weed their audio and video collections, the weeded items come to me to be added to MIPS as complete sets. Two weeks ago, I flipped three boxes of unabridged young adult audio books on CD from a southern Maine library to the library at the high school in Guilford. That means kids in Piscataquis County now have access to some seventy books, many of which aren’t part of the collection in print form. Since there are many students who have trouble reading print, but can absorb spoken versions better, who knows the positive effects of this transfer upstate. If you want to see the full MIPS list, go here.


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8 Responses to Looking at Shame and Slipped Disks in an entirely different way

  1. kaitlynkathy says:

    Good for you, John. And P.S. I still listen to books on cassette tapes. New books aren’t available that way, but lots of oldies, many former library copies, still turn up at Amazon Marketplace. Come to think of it, didn’t one of the ones I bought come from you?

  2. Kathy you are right about tapes. I still sell several every month on Amazon to help the library budget.

  3. This is an amazing story, John. The program is brilliant in its simplicity and successful due to your commitment. If I’d heard about this without knowing who’d dreamed it up, I probably would have guessed you were involved.

  4. So many ways librarians make our lives better, yet they aren’t appreciated.


  5. Tina says:

    From the picture, you also had something else that is in short supply — space to store the ‘to be re-homed items.’ It’s a great program!

  6. Excellent work! <3 Generous and the ultimate in recycling. When I retired, my classroom books went to a school in Kansas City, and from that school to one that lost its library to tornado damage.

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