The Wages of Budget Cuts

OK, so it’s even hotter today than it was when I posted “Too Hot to Think.” In fact when I went to the grocery store this afternoon, the temp in the car registered 104. I think the official high was 101, but what’s three degrees between “friends”?

So yesterday I spent the day at the state library. I’d been postponing a visit since last winter and the unanswered questions kept piling up.

Things did not start well. I got within two blocks of my favorite parking spot, and the oil light screamed at me. Made it to the quick-mart/gas station two blocks farther north on the borderland of Frog Hollow (yeah, it’s the putdown for French Canadians, not the little green amphibians) and bought two quarts of oil. The guy at the counter asked me if I needed a funnel. I told him I had one in the trunk, that this had happened before. He kind of looked at me, and I know that every one of the people in the store watched.  There I was, Ms. Professional, retrieving paper towels, funnel, dispatching the oil with maximum efficiency.

The rest of the a.m. was great once I’d escaped from the heat, which at 9:45 was 90 something. I found some terrific material in a quiet, people free, if rather dehydrating setting. All those old documents don’t take kindly to having water around so the only personal items allowed are single sheets of paper and laptops.

At lunch time I ventured across the street to the Legislative Office Building – that monument to governmental excess, which I believe includes Italian marble walls. The food does not reflect similar excess, and I had a satisfying lunch of Stacy’s pita chips and a veggie wrap with lots and lots of water and a mega cup of coffee for about $5. The only distraction —  the handful of young men and women from the National Guard Armory next door: camouflage shirts (long sleeves) and pants (long), tucked into heavy boots. They seemed the least bothered by the heat.

The fun began after lunch. I had ordered some documents before I left, with the assurance that they’d be available at 2 p.m. At about 2:15 when I returned an earlier document, one of the very nice librarians asked, “Has anyone talked to you about this?” I said no. Well, Mel said, they’re not where they’re supposed to be. There are two empty spaces. As soon as someone came to relieve him, he’d go check another location. I said fine as I had other items to look at in the open stacks. I had to go get my sweater for that part of the building as it was probably about 50 degrees, and my body was still adjusting to outdoors, which at that point was 100, or maybe more.

I looked at a couple of books and then decided to check some microfilm. The drawers indicated that the records I wanted went from 1650 to 1881, but when I looked at the actual boxes, they only went through to 1850 – not what I wanted. So I asked Carol, another very nice librarian. She looked – said she’d never noticed before. We went around in circles before figuring out that I could order the actual documents, the day before I wanted to look at them.

I moved on to the next item on my list, which I had found in the catalog of manuscripts with an old Dewey Decimal number. I thought  that was odd but noted it down. Carol directed me to this drawer sort buried at the bottom of a cabinet filled with other stuff. She said the library was in the process of renumbering to Library of Congress numbers and transferring the film to the newspaper room. We looked, and the films I wanted weren’t there. Since I had retrieved the information within the last two weeks, there was no chance they’d been transferred but seemed to have disappeared off to the ozone.

I was not the only patron who’d won the “lost lottery.” Carol finally asked, only half joking, “Is there anything else we can not find for you?” The staff is so conscientious and dedicated, I felt terrible for them. After all, I have other options for this information from local town halls and whatnot. But the state’s resources are going astray, and it is obvious that the declining staff is taking its toll on the people and the material.

As the clock ticked down to the last of the day, Mel asked if I planned to return on Friday. I said no, knowing that I had to review what had seen, go to the grocery store, go the drugstore, do laundry, etc. etc. Plus I could not bear the thought of more extended hours of dehydration in 100 plus heat and lunch in the tension of an LOB filled with people freaking about layoffs, and the rest of the budget woes.

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