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Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com June 22, 2011 at 8:22 am 2,409 56 Comments

State of the County Address — County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman delivered the annual State of the County address in Crystal City yesterday. “All indications are that we are well-positioned for the future,” Zimmerman told the crowd. “Demand is both strong and growing for transit-accessible, walkable urban communities.”[Sun Gazette]

Rosslyn Public Art Walking Tour — Take a self-guided tour of the eclectic pieces of public art around Rosslyn, thanks to a map provided by Arlington’s Cultural Affairs division. [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Are Library Lost Item Fees Too High? — An Arlington Public Library user wrote an angry letter to the Sun Gazette after her family lost a library DVD and had to pay about twice as much to replace it as it would have cost to buy it new at Target. “I would greatly appreciate an investigation of the county library finances,” Janet Dorn told the paper. The library has responded to the letter on its blog, arguing that its materials supplier charges more than discount stores, partially because each item comes pre-packaged in a library-specific case with call number stickers already attached. [Library Blog]

  • CrystalMikey

    Hey lady, how about you not lose borrowed items, mmmkay? Not to mention we all know movies get cheaper over time…

    • GM

      And considering that this probably isn’t the first DVD she’s borrowed from the library, in the long run it more than balances out.

      Moral of the story: Don’t lose your library items, and people are whiners.

    • Ren


  • doodly

    That’s why they call them discount stores.

  • Rosslynite

    Ah. Rich people’s problems are quite amusing.

  • Jon B

    Perhaps we should investigate the library’s procurement process? If they are paying their suppliers more than Target then it seems to me that the taxpayer is getting a raw deal. I’m not buying that a ‘library-specific case with call numbers’ is really a value-added cost. I’m wondering if one of the board members happens to be an owner of this supplier?

    • HaulinOats

      Seems to me like the “library-specific case with call numbers” is a value-added cost, especially given that the library – through the item hold system – will schlep its items all over the county to whichever branch strikes your fancy. Then, when you’re done with the item, the library lets you return the stuff to whichever branch you’re feeling fuzzy about on any given day (even if it’s not the custodial branch for that item). They have to keep track of the stuff somehow…

      • V Dizzle

        But could they simply affix the call numbers on the books/videos internally at less cost? Don’t think we’re questioning having call numbers or our precious Dewey Decimal System.

        • OddNumber

          I think whether or not it would be cheaper is tied to how expensive the locking DVD cases are. The supplier might get a discount by buying in quantities that might be unrealistic for a single library system. It is a good question though.

    • OddNumber

      Even if the supplier of the DVD didn’t provide the item in a circulation ready package, the library staff would need to spend the resources to do it. Whatever the cost to put the item back in circulation is a reasonable expense to pass on to the patron who lost the item.

      One thing I find confusing is why the library charges the cost of the item at the time of purchase, which is likely higher than the current price. It seems the cost at time of purchase is only relevant if they are not putting the item back into circulation.

    • doodly

      “I’m wondering if one of the board members happens to be an owner of this supplier?”

      Is this Make a Ridiculous Unsupported Corruption/Conpiracy Accusation Week or something?

      • AllenB

        It’s not confined to just one week around here.

  • CW

    This water fountain never seems to be turned on when I need it most (i.e. when I didn’t bring enough water for a given ride on a 90-degree day).

    • V Dizzle

      Wait, those aren’t urinals? Hmmm, you may want to drink at another fountain anyways.

      • TGEoA

        Cue Bardo restroom comments

      • CW


        Once, on the Custis trail just east of Quincy, where there is that little rest area off the trail, I saw a homeless guy happily washing out his socks in the water fountain.

        • Tabby

          Happily? Was he grinning from ear-to-ear, humming a little tune?

          • CW

            Yes, and I am not joking. Was that you, Tabby?

  • John Fontain

    So the library – who buys in bulk – pays more for their titles than they would cost if purchased individually on Amazon, etc.?

    During a March thread on library funding, several posters (myself included) suggested that procuring our personal entertainment needs may not necessarily be most cost effeciently accomplished through the government. Other posters practically belly laughed at the suggestion of this “ridiculous” notion and insisted that libraries were efficient and good deals for taxpayers.

    Looks like the library isn’t spending our hard-earned money wisely after all!

    • PhilL

      Wait. Are you implying that someone may have attempted to refute a point you made on this website with completely unsubstantiated information, rhetoric and obfuscation and simply hoped that you would accept their response and never learn the truth?

      Damn, I’m really shocked that would happen.

    • V Dizzle

      So the library buying a book for, let’s say $20 MSRP, which is read by 100 people over the course of 10 years, isn’t cost effective? That’s $0.20 a person, not adjusted for inflation over the time period. Let’s say only 20 people read the book in 10 years and the library overpaid, let’s say $40 for the book. Now we’re getting into paperback prices, though you still have the benefit of an archive.

      Sorry, how is this wasteful? I’m sure it can be done better, but I can’t say you’ve made a point now or in whatever previous post where you allegedly wrote something similar.

      • SamsontheCat

        It’s cost effective, but it could be more cost effective, that’s the point. $20 MSRP, over 10 years, for 100 people, at $0.20 per person is a good deal, but when that same book at time of purchase could be bought at B&N or Amazon for $10 MSRP it’s not a very good deal.

        If the criteria in the library’s procurement practices is just to get a good deal then I’ll go down to B&N now, pick up a copy of Treasure Island for $10 (tax included) and sell it to Arlington County for $999. Over 10 years, for 100 people, that’s a savings.

        • John Fontain

          Bingo! You’d think that buying in bulk would result in substantial cost savings on a per title per copy basis. Apparently that isn’t the case. This is a shame and yet another example of how OPM (other people’s money) is typically spent.

          • Bob

            Read the library’s blog posting please. The library purchases library-ready items that can be placed immediately into circulation, bypassing the need for library employees to do the work necessary to make those materials library-ready. The fact that the (library-ready) replacement cost is often more than the Amazon retail cost says nothing about whether the library is wasting taxpayer monies.

          • John Fontain

            When you pay as much for the library-ready packaging as you do for the content, there is clearly an overspending problem.

          • Bob

            Evidence please, other than pure speculation? In this case, by the way, according to the Sun-Gazette link, the Library charged the woman $20.00, $1.51 above Amazon’s price of $18.49 and $7.00 above Target’s price of $13.00.

          • John Fontain

            “Evidence please”

            See the case you yourself cited. They originally charged her twice as much as the target price. They only refunded her some money after her complaint was published.

          • Bob

            You call it a “shame” and say there is “clearly” an “overspending problem” at the library and you base this on a sample of…one? Statistically-speaking, that’s not persuasive. Valid as your statements are, they are just beliefs, grounded not in facts, but in philosophy and politics. The hard part for me is that your statements denigrate the library staff, so I feel the need to speak up.

          • John Fontain

            Bob, I am not saying anything negative about the library staff. Regarding the sample size of 1, doesn’t the library’s blog cited above make clear that they pay more for titles than they would cost at Target, Amazon, etc.

          • Josh S

            Also, what’s this “buying in bulk?” Since when does the library system buy enough copies of a given title to justify getting a bulk discount? I’m assuming you’d need to buy at least 10 of a given title to get a discount. I’m sure that happens occasionally, but I doubt that the library buys that many copies of even a quarter of their titles.

            But, I’d be happy to be proven wrong. Relevant facts, anyone?

          • John Fontain

            It doesn’t sound like you understand the publishing business very well, if you don’t think buying thousands of books from a given publisher should result in a bulk discount.

        • doodly

          But the County isn’t buying for $999, is it?

          • SamsontheCat

            No, that was hyperbole, but if they are buying books and DVDs at double the retail price, from a supplier who likely buys direct from the publisher and so should be able to get deals, they are not being responsible with taxpayer money.

            Assuming they bought the DVDs and books from Target, at what appears to be half the price, they’d have more money to invest in additional books, technology, physical improvements, longer hours, staff, etc.

            I’d rather my taxes, small though the portion going to the library may be, go to the librarian’s paycheck and have her affix a sticker on the DVD than spend 2x market value for that same DVD in a special box.

          • V Dizzle

            My point was that it IS a good deal for the taxpayer, although it could be better I’m sure. I can tell you they are not paying $999 or $40 or $20 per book. Granted most books won’t see that high circulation either, but I can’t see how it isn’t a useful service as was contended. Pay the effing fine, they are there to discourage people from keeping/losing/breaking the items as much as to pay for replacement. Lose your apartment key…the 10-cent key will probably cost you $75 that you agreed to in your lease.

    • samsonite

      So you think paying for your DVDs is cheaper than borrowing them at the library?

      Belly laugh.

      • John Fontain

        It’s apparent you didn’t read the prior thread. Let’s assume the library spends $240 per household on content each year. That would buy them 5 $24 books (assume based on the above article that they are paying twice as much per title as they need to).

        Now as an alternative, let’s assume that the County gives you $240 to spend on content each year and you go out and buy 10 books, read them, and hand them in to the library for future borrowing. The library gets twice the content for the same price and you get to read the exact titles you want to read during the year.

        Better yet, rather than the county giving you $240 each year, let’s just cut out the passing back and forth of money and say the county reduces your taxes by $240 each year. You go buy your own books with your own money, read them, and donate them to the library for a tax write-off each year. Then the net cost to each family will be below $240 per year.

        Etc., etc.

        • samsonite

          Hey, I don’t mind if you think about this creatively. But there are still big holes in your idea:

          1. You’d get LOTS of the same book from people. The library would have hundreds of copies of the same best-sellers that everyone wants to read. And nobody would want to read them any more, since they already did.

          2. The library would still have to pay people to label and shelve the books.

          As for your “better yet” please refer back to my belly laugh. With $240, I can buy 10 books. With $240 going to the library, I can read thousands of books. Hence the existence of libraries.

          • John Fontain

            Regarding point 1, if the library already had lots of copies of a particular title, I wouldn’t assume that most people would spend their stipend on the title when they could just rent it for free instead. But this system would provide consumers with the ultimate optionality depending on whether their desired titles were stocked at the library. It would also help to ensure that any titles that you might be interested in that are off the beaten path would be available.

            Regarding point 2, my $240 figure was content costs, not total operating costs. I understand that the library would still need to maintain a staff to run the place. As a former library employee, I can tell you that “labeling” costs are next to nothing and can be done when pages (those shelving books) or checkout clerks have downtime.

            “As for your “better yet” please refer back to my belly laugh. With $240, I can buy 10 books. With $240 going to the library, I can read thousands of books.”

            I still don’t think you get it. With my proposed idea, you could get the 10 books you want and still have access to the thousands of other books at the library. It would be the proverbial “best of both worlds.”

          • samsonite

            On point 1 – right, so why do they need $240 to buy more books? And why would they need their favorite books stocked at the library if they’ve already read them? You can simply request the librarian to acquire a book.

            As for my belly laugh, it doesn’t matter either way. You can buy the books you want for $240, or the library can. It’s a wash. Unless you are having trouble finding the books you want out of the thousands and thousands at the library, your system doesn’t do much. It might allow the library to acquire more books, but there’s only so much room on the shelves, as you know.

            But I’d be willing to let someone try this as a trial to see if it could accomplish something.

          • John Fontain

            “It’s a wash”

            Did you already forget about the library overpaying for its content?

        • Josh S

          As the previous guy pointed out, you’d get way too many copies of certain books and no copies at all of others that might, in the end, turn out to have reasonably high check-out rates. And you’d get books that I thought were interesting but no one else in a ten mile radius would or did.
          In other words, your proposed solution MAY be cheaper, but it certainly would be a lot less efficient in other ways.

  • nothing_to_watch

    The library has every right to charge more for the item. It they only charged the price to replace the item, then there would be no penalty for losing things. I could just go to the library and purchse books and DVDs by losing them. The library is free, if you can’t return the items on time then you are penalized. You know there are penalites when you get your library card.

    • Josh S

      Amazing that it took this long in the thread for someone to make this point, which is probably the most important one.

  • R.Griffon

    > “Demand is both strong and growing for transit-accessible, walkable urban communities.”

    You think demand is strong now, just wait until we start hitting peak oil and gas prices go well north of $5/gal. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  • Oil is down $20 a barrel since the beginning of May. I’ve noticed the price at the pump come down accordingly. I’m not disagreeing with you, but your timing is a bit off when the swing is the other way right now.

    • R.Griffon

      Prices at the pump don’t always follow the price per barrel at a 1:1 correlation, so be careful with that assumption.

      But what you’ve seen this year is still a general fluctuation in the market. It’s not really part of a larger trend. When I talk about “peak oil,” I’m talking about an irreversible shift in the market that will happen when demand outstrips supply (or at least the relatively cheap supply we’ve grown accustomed to). When this happens (and everyone pretty much agrees it’s a “when,” not an “if”) it’ll change oil prices forever unless we make a major shift in consumption via alternative sources or a flat out decrease in demand (which is nearly impossible).

      Many estimate we’ll hit this between 2015 and 2020. But obviously nobody knows for sure.

      • samsonite

        Oil will flow forever. We just have to drill baby drill. God wouldn’t take away our oil. It will come to us magically and cheaply until we invent the flying nuclear-fusion driven car in 2020.

      • Josh S

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as much a believer in peak oil as the next guy. But I’ve been following it since around 2001. The “many estimate that we’ll hit this between X and Y” has steadily been pushed back since that time. When I started, it was 2005-2010, with predictions for massive chaos already supposed to have started. It is possible that this chaos has been expertly and deftly displaced to Third World countries up to now. It is possible that the “unforseen” economic breakdown starting in 2008 was, in fact, allowed to happen because those in power realized that a recession was the perfect solution to prevent / delay Peak Oil’s effects. But whatever the explanation, I am now thoroughly confused as to what to believe about the timing of Peak Oil’s terrible effects. I have let my MREs expire……

        • R.Griffon

          MREs are good for 40 years if you keep them at room temperature. Longer if you keep them chilled. 🙂

          But you’re absolutely right – NOBODY knows exactly when it will come. The biggest unknowns are the economic trajectory (and thus demand) of China and India, but the discovery of new oil fields also have some effect in pushing it back.

          But I firmly believe that it’ll come within our lifetime. It’s absolutely unavoidable if larger populations start consuming at the same per capita rate that the US does currently.

          So hold onto those MREs, and get a job that doesn’t involve a lot of driving.

          • Westover

            An MRE’s shelf life is 5 years at 50 degrees, that is a bit below room temperature. At room temperature, ie 70 degree, the shelf life of an MRE is just 40 months.

          • R.Griffon

            D’oh! The chart I was looking at was in MONTHS, not years.

            *smacks head*

  • 4Arl

    I’m guessing the surprise factor was a big reason she was upset. If the DVD was clearly labeled with the specific lost item fee she could choose not to borrow it. I wonder if people would respond the same way to someone who had a CaBi bike stolen and faced the $1000 fee?

  • Relax Preppy

    I’m pretty sure the DVDs cost more than retail because of the licensing since they are lending the movies out to people. Blockbuster/Netflix/Redbox all pay above retail for their movies.

    • Greg

      This is true. Also, if anyone has ever checked out a DVD from the library before, there actually is a specialized case that includes a magnetic lock in addition to the call numbers. The library couldn’t just buy these DVDs from Target and then slap a call number sticker on them.

  • Tabby_TwoTone

    I do think that our library fees are too high, and they only send the “you’re late” email when it’s been at least a few days.

    I’ve given up taking DVDs out of the libe.

  • Julie

    The library is a much better deal for responsible people than purchasing stuff at Target will ever be and the portion of county taxes that goes for library services is tiny. Plus, library fines go into the County’s general fund–not exclusively to the libraries. Lucky library staff, however, has to put up with whiny users.


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