The History of the (Whole) World

my progress as I write, revise, send to my editor, re-revise, fact-check, galley-read, and promote my books, including (but not limited to) a multi-volume history of the world. While living on a farm, educating my kids, and teaching. And doing a few other things too.

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Williamsburg Regional Library: Hear this

December 14th, 2010 by Susan

UPDATE: If you’re revisiting, scroll down to the bottom of the post for the complete non-response.

Those of you who aren’t local will have to forgive me as I use this blog to protest. But the situation here is probably being reproduced elsewhere in the country, thanks to budget cuts–and if anyone out there has any advice for me, I’d be most happy to hear it.

Today, I received this email from the library I have been using for my entire life. (Tiny bit of background: Charles City County, my home, has never had a library; just a bookmobile. The Williamsburg Regional Library, within the city limits, is our only local library.)

New WRL Library Card Policy

The Williamsburg Regional Library Board of Trustees recently approved a new library card policy that may affect your borrowing privileges.

Beginning February 1, 2011 only residents of the City of Williamsburg, James City County and York County will be issued WRL library cards.

As of that date the library will stop honoring all cards previously issued to those not residing in the above locations.

Non-residents of the City of Williamsburg, James City County and York County may continue to:
Use the Williamsburg Regional Library’s materials in-house
Ask library staff members for help
Attend events in both library buildings
Use public computers.
Questions? Contact library director John Moorman at: 757-259-7777 or [email protected]

Here is my response. Whether it will do any good, I have no idea.

Mr. Moorman,

I am absolutely appalled–and angry–to learn of the library’s new policy.

I have lived in Charles City County for most of my life. I teach literature and writing at William and Mary and have four children. As you may know, we have no permanent library in Charles City, and my children had read their way through the entire “collection” here by the time they were in middle school.

I have been using the Williamsburg Public Library myself since 1973, and have used it for my children for the last nineteen years. Those of us who live in Charles City, particularly on the eastern end (over an hour away from the Richmond library) have nowhere else to go. We have always considered WRL our public library, and have supported it in every possible manner. I am on a first-name basis with the children’s librarians, who have watched my children grow from preschool through university age, and who have always welcomed us warmly into the stacks. I, my husband, my children, and my parents all hold library cards and make regular use of them.

It was bad enough when the Board of Trustees decided to limit the reference and checkout services to non-county residents, but we coped with this change (unhappily, I might add). But now I learn that my family’s library cards–all eight of them–will become completely invalid on February 1.

To cut off library services to Charles City residents is shortsighted and ungrateful. It takes no notice of the contribution that those of us who don’t happen to live within the city limits make to the intellectual and educational life of Williamsburg.

It doesn’t even make financial sense. I work in Williamsburg. I shop in Williamsburg, which means I pay local taxes. I pay library fines, I have donated to the library, I have given books to the library. I am a published author whose books are STOCKED in the library. Yet as of February, I will be deprived of any use of the institution I have supported for most of my life.

Apparently there is no way for me to have any voice in this matter. I was not allowed to comment; my input was not solicited. I don’t know how to appeal, or what steps to take next. All I know is that a huge part of our lives–the library that we have been visiting weekly for two decades, the library that I have been using for forty years–is being taken away from us.

The last time I was in the library–last week–I checked out three books for my ten-year-old daughter that I had read myself at the age of ten. Not just the titles, but the SAME BOOKS from the same library. I passed them on to her with delight. It never occurred to me that this tradition would come to an abrupt end.

I would appreciate an answer from you.

Thank you for your time,

Susan Wise Bauer
Member of the faculty, English Department, College of William and Mary
Owner and publisher, Peace Hill Press (
Author of The Well-Trained Mind, The Well-Educated Mind, The History of the Ancient World, and The History of the Medieval World, all published by W. W. Norton and purchased by the Williamsburg Regional Library.

ADDENDUM: So after sending my letter, I got this back.

Susan Wise Bauer:

I thank you for your e-mail expressing your concern about the recent decision of the Board of Trustees of the Williamsburg Regional Library to limit library card holding privileges to residents, business or property owners in a city or county that funds the Williamsburg Regional Library effective February 1, 2011. I fully understand your concern.

As indicated in my memo to non-residents of the City of Williamsburg, James City County and York County the reason for this action by the Board of Trustees was the realization that;”to sustain financial support the library must restrict its circulation privileges to users who live in localities that directly fund the Williamsburg Regional Library.”

Although as a resident of Charles City County after February 1, 2011 you and your family will not be able to check out materials from Williamsburg Regional Library locations you may still use library materials in-house, ask library staff members for help, attend events in both library buildings and use public computers.

Again, I thank you for your e-mail. As a resident of Charles City County you and your family have full access to the programs and services of the Heritage Public Library with permanent locations in both Charles City County and New Kent County. I encourage you to make use of these facilities and work with library staff to provide the services and programs you desire.

Sincerely yours,

John A. Moorman

To which I answered:

Actually I was hoping for something more than a form response.


Really, if you’re going to send a form letter, you can do a little better than just repeating the press release.

Weirdly, a friend of mine who also wrote a heartfelt protest got back the same form letter, EXCEPT that hers (and not mine) included the following paragraph:

As public library service is a function of government and provided for by government funds it is not available for purchase by individuals . It is paid for by the governments providing this service. Therefore memberships will not be available for non-residents.

Which is just stupid.

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