Sunday, January 06, 2008

Friends of the Zoo at the Library

While researching the collaborative careers of the writers P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton and the composer Jerome Kern for a production at the 42nd Street Moon theatre troupe, I stumbled across the fact that Wodehouse and Bolton had co-written a memoir in 1953 of their theatrical career during the first three decades of the 20th century in New York and London (click here for a short essay I wrote at the 42nd Street Moon site about it).

So I went to the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library to find the book and was informed that there was only one copy and it was in the "rare books/special reserved" section, meaning that you were not allowed to check the book out but would have to read the damned thing in the library among all the insane people and were not allowed to take it home.

Checking out the scene on, I found that the book had been reprinted in 1984 in a trade paperback edition and there were plenty of copies to be had for $6 and less, so its absence on the stacks in the public library was ridiculous. After finishing the book last night, which I can confidently state is the wittiest theatrical memoir ever written and which can't be praised highly enough, the fact that it's not on the shelves is just plain shameful.

Unfortunately, the San Francisco Public Library is afflicted with the same privatization woes as the San Francisco Zoo, which has been much in the news lately. The "Friends of..." groups are all about fundraising and marketing and of course that becomes their only purpose, rather than simple details like making sure there are basic books on the shelves or that animals are treated decently.

The local activist James Chaffee has been obsessed for years with the perfidy of the Friends of the Library (click here for his extensively researched website on the issue) and Willie Morrissey over at the SF Willie's blog takes a look at the sleazy Friends group running the public/private partnership of the San Francisco Zoo (click here). If you see the name Sam Singer involved as head of public relations on any issue, you can safely bet that his client is evil (one of his other major clients is the Lennar Corporation, currently poisoning Bayview/Hunter's Point). Willie has been living next door to the zoo since he was a child. It featured free admission for most of his life, and since he's no spring chicken, he knows the place well. His suggestion is to just get rid of the large animals, keep the small animal exhibits, and turn the place into a roller park for skaters and skateboarders. The idea is so good it will never happen, but click here to read his proposal.


sfwillie said...

Hey Mike, The Sam Singer thing is scary. The "Friends Of" stuff is so obscure.

The response of City Powers to the tiger incident is so similar to their resonse to the Bakers Dozen case exactly a year ago! Way creepy.

Thanks for the links.

namastenancy said...

Fantastic essay - you've said what I have thought for ages. I took a lot of photos in the library, prior to writing an essay on the sad state of the place but couldn't bring myself to do it. The links are also great. As always, Bravo!

Jerry Jarvis said...

When I hear the name Sam Singer and the library mentioned in the same sentence I cringe.

Matty Boy said...

It's a crying shame that the Library has come to this, because it's a very pretty building in my opinion.

People from outside our bio-region think of San Francisco as a People's Republic, but reading this blog makes it clear that it's just another corporate cesspool.

James Chaffee said...

Am I obsessed? I wonder.
It is true that we see it all over our society – Private interests reduce the number of beneficiaries to just a few (themselves) and then claim the apparent increase in dollars as “philanthropy” or some sort of progress in the only thing that matters, money. They get away with it because the harm or loss of benefit is hardly noticeable when spread among all of the rest of us. This is more dramatic at the library because the idea that it should benefit the entire society is part of the very concept of a public library.
Thank you for your essay because it makes clear that the harm to the rest of us is real if one looks closely enough.

sfwillie said...

Yeah, maybe "obsessed" is not the perfect word.

I think of Mr Chaffee as a local government watchdog who specializes in Library issues.

Someone's got to do it. You wouldn't accuse proctologists of being "obsessed" with assholes. ;-)