OUR GOVERNMENT AT WORK By Tara Ross
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Wed, Nov 16, 2005, 12:09 AM

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I traveled to Washington D.C. last week, in part to complete research for my second book. (Link to my first book is here.) I am admittedly a bit of a nerd at heart, so I was looking forward with great anticipation to the prospect of visiting the Library of Congress for the first time. What self-respecting writer wouldn’t? I pictured a magnificent and historical building, shelves and shelves of books, a serene and studious atmosphere. Researching at this place—the country’s preeminent public library—would be an experience without equal.

It was an experience, all right; but not for the reasons that I expected.

I should have known that something was amiss when I first walked into the library. The person at the information desk looked at me with great suspicion. What was I doing there? Why did I need to use the books? What am I researching? I would need to apply for a Reader Identification Card. Without it, I would not be allowed into the reading rooms. Another librarian looked at my passport. Is that really me? My signature doesn’t look like “Tara Ross,” she informed me, it looks like “Vara Ross.” Why do I sign my name like that? Is that really my signature? Is this passport valid?

You can’t make this stuff up.

Finally, I convinced the librarian that my way of signing capital “T’s” is perfectly legitimate. With great reluctance, she decided to let me have a Reader Identification Card. How very generous of her, to be sure.

Those who know me will not be surprised to hear that this half hour of grilling by nosy government employees left me a bit grumpy. But surely the worst of it was behind me. I would shake it off and continue on to the old historical rooms that I had so looked forward to visiting.

No such luck. The Library of Congress, as it turns out, is basically one big, inefficient bureaucracy. Visitors are constantly confronted with indifferent or bumbling government employees. (Think post office employees, but in a library.) During the course of my two research days, my attempts to find one simple set of books were foiled time and time again. Many (not all) librarians just didn’t seem to care if I ever found the books I was looking for. Inane security measures and pointless rules abounded.

It was like being harassed by airport security officers for two solid days, merely because you have a file on your nail clippers.

But the worst part of the experience was the view that many of the library employees seemed to have of me and other readers. I felt like an unwanted invader. I was asked to explain, repeatedly, why I was there, what I wanted, where and if my book would be published. The default assumption seemed to be that I should not be allowed into the Library until I proved a need to be there. The Library, its employees seemed to feel, is not the people’s library. Instead, it is “theirs.” Mere taxpayers don’t have any pre-existing right to use the books that they have paid for. We must first prove to Uncle Sam that we have a need to use “the government’s” resources.

Indeed, any mention of my taxpayer status, in defense, seemed only to confuse these bureaucrats.

My trip to D.C. taught me two lessons: First, never do research at the Library of Congress if you can avoid it. You’ll get a lot more done with a lot less pain elsewhere. Second, never believe politicians who claim that they have cut all the fat out of government. The Library of Congress is just one small example of a big government enterprise that sucks up too much money with too little to show for it. We, the taxpayers, should petition our congressmen and senators to hire a private contractor to manage our Library. We would not only save a lot of money, but we would also end up with a more efficiently run institution that we can be proud to call our own.

Perhaps fittingly, my trip to DC ended with yet another bumbling government bureaucracy moment. You guessed it. On my trip home to Dallas, I was the victim of an invasive, inefficient, and unwarranted search by yet another bureaucracy that should be privatized. But I guess the ineptness of those so-called airport security screeners is a topic for another day.

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