GRANOLAPARK: Attack of the fifty-foot librarian

testimonyLibrarian staff ask for waiver as Nuclear Free committee member looks on.


Dear Reader,

“Dumb” is how Takoma Park councilmember Fred Schultz described it.

And dumb it was. Two of the city’s beloved, sacred cows, the library and the Nuclear Free committee, were slashing their horns at one another. Not that they wanted to, and not that they didn’t try to avoid it, but they could not resolve their differences. So, there they were, hoofing the ground at each other at the council’s June 18 meeting. The city library was appealing for a waiver to purchase computers made by a proscribed manufacturer. The Nuclear Free Takoma Park Committee was recommending the council turn the waiver down.

Takoma Park’s nuclear-free ordinance forbids the city from dealing with companies that profit from the nuclear industry – unless a waiver is obtained. Reasons for a waiver include there being no alternative manufacturer.

Meanwhile boxes of brand new Hewlett-Packard computers were sitting in the library, unopened.

And then it came up that the list of proscribed manufacturers is 10 years outdated and cannot be updated.

This was all SO dumb that Mayor Bruce Williams hinted that it might be time to re-write the city’s famous nuclear-free policy. He posed this in flowery terms, “The well-written nuclear free ordinance – for its time,” should be “something we’re all proud of.” Less flowery was his exclamation “the committee has no basis to say that!” regarding the committee’s claim that the manufacturer was still part of the nuclear industry.

There is no way the decade-old list of nuclear industry corporations used by the committee can be updated. It once was public information, but due to security concerns it is now unavailable. This makes it difficult for the Nuclear Free citizens committee to do its job – as they have warned the city council in its previous annual reports.


The computers themselves were not the problem, it is the library’s “turnkey” system that requires them. This allows them to easily manage several computer stations at once. And while there might be equivalent computers from another manufacturer, there is no equivalent turnkey system, the librarians say.


Librarian staff ask for waiver as Nuclear Free committee member looks on.

“There is no other option that supplies the same level of sophistication” at the same low cost,  said library director Ellen Robbins. She said the alternative would be to discontinue some library services.

Nuclear Free committee members said that to their recollection the library said it would seek alternatives three years ago when it last contracted for the turnkey service. They said it appeared the library, until recently, did not put an effort into that search.

The council passed a waiver, but they tinkered with it to so it wasn’t open-ended. And the librarians said they would look for alternatives before the contract ran out. Really, really, they would – this time.

Undoubtedly, the library staff went right next door to the library and started opening boxes.

But, we’ve seen this movie. They’ll get the gleaming nuke-computers in place. There will be an accident, contaminating the water cooler with radiation, and the next thing you know, it’s  . . .


– Gilbert

PS. Yes, we know there isn’t actually any nuclear radiation in those computers. Not that we know of . . .

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

4 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: Attack of the fifty-foot librarian"

  1. As a member of the Nuclear-free committee I want to correct some misconceptions:

    The Userful system does function on multiple computer platforms. The librarian chose to lock the computers away for months after she realized Userful had given a false certification, rather than hold Userful accountable for providing different computers such as are sold by DELL and others. The Committee was than asked to consider the waiver on an expedited basis. We voted against granting the waiver because the librarian refused to answer our questions and delayed in even returning our phone messages.

    As to the list, this is a classic red herring that certain Council members and the Mayor are fond of bringing up. Every year we explain that we review the list but have been unable for 12 years to retain an outside contractor to do this review. Coupled with targeted research and a self certification process, the Committee believes the list remains a useful guide as intended. There is no dispute that H-P is currently a nuclear weapons supplier.

    As a Nuclear-free City, there are some burdens for City staff to ensure our tax money is spent with companies who do not proliferate nuclear weapons. This is at the heart of the Ordinance–simply speaking a green investment policy that all progressive citizens can applaud.

  2. The library refused to answer your questions? The library director said in her opening statement that “the city council and the NFC committee are already in receipt of three memorandum from library staff written between April 25 and May 23.”

    If what she said is accurate, library staff did address your questions – some of them at least. So, what questions did they refuse to answer?

    Be assured that Your Gilbert supports the goals of the Nuclear Free committee. We are concerned by the suggestion that the city’s nuclear-free ordinance might be re-written. We fear it may be turned into yet another toothless, risk-free, feel-good declaration of the sort the council likes to pass.

    We think back on what councilmember Tim Male said last winter. He spoke against “feel-good” resolutions, saying that if the city is to make a progressive stand let it be for something “hard to do” to show we are willing to sacrifice for our principles. The nuclear-free city ordinance is a good example of that, and should stay that way.

    – Gilbert

  3. Ellen Arnold-Robbins , Director - Takoma Park Maryland Library | July 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm |

    I am writing to point out significant errors in the account by some NFZ members of events leading up to to our request for a waiver allowing us to use the HP computers we had been sent in April of this year.
    1. We never stated that “we would seek alternatives three years ago when [we] last contracted for the turnkey service.” This would not have been necessary because the computers received under the prior contract were generic and not prohibited under the NFZ legislation.
    2. Mr. Rini’s comment that “the Librarian chose to lock the computers away for months after she realized Userful had given a false certification…” is also untrue. Userful did not submit a false certification, but acted in good faith – given the wording of the certification. The Library was in touch with the NFZ Committee through the City Clerk’s office within a few days of receiving the HP computers. They were kept in a locked equipment room while we waited for a Public Hearing to be held concerning the waiver. The delay was certainly not our choice, but was required by the ordinance.

  4. Jim Kuhn (former member, NFTPC; Treasurer, Friends of the Takoma Park MD Library) | July 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm |

    Readers interested in learning more about the process and the issue are encouraged to review the detailed written responses from library and city staff and from myself, all of which were provided on request to NFTPC well before the public hearing (see, p. 38 ff). As a former member of the NFTPC and Treasurer of the Friends of the Library, I was happy to be asked by Chair Levy to submit to my former colleagues written testimony on why the merits of the request and the language of the ordinance pointed to the appropriateness of the waiver request. Of course I was disappointed that the committee apparently disagreed with the written testimony they were in receipt of (multiple documents from multiple people). But as a long-time anti-nuclear activist and long-time library advocate I have to say that I personally see a victory for both sides in this: this is the first time in Takoma Park history to my knowledge that a waiver was granted with an explicit expiration date. It is my hope that such “shelf lives” be written into any future waiver. – Jim Kuhn.

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