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Thursday, June 23, 2005 01:43 pm

User friendlier


Richard M. Yon isn’t your typical tourist. As a Florida university student, pursuing his Ph.D. in political science, Yon’s visit to Springfield over Memorial Day weekend was part of his 5,000-mile tour of various presidential sites.

“I’m such a nerd,” he laughs.

Over the phone, it’s hard to tell whether he’s being self-deprecating or brutally honest (then again, how many red-blooded 27-year-old American males collect busts . . . of dead presidents?). But I don’t care whether he wears Coke-bottle glasses and a pocket protector. The chatter among the librarians at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is that Yon changed security policies. And that makes him a super-hero to me.

First, a confession: Years ago, when I worked at the Dallas Morning News, I learned to loathe security guards. It all started because I liked to take the most direct route from the parking lot to my office whenever I was a tad tardy. But because my parking space was in a remote lot, the shortest route involved stepping across a rail road track. To me, it was no big deal since I’ve never worn stilettos. However, a certain security guard decided it was a major offense because I was “trespassing” on railroad property.

So whenever he caught me scurrying across the tracks (I was supposed to go down a long flight of stairs, cross four lanes of traffic and climb up another long flight of stairs), he would notify my editor, who would meet me at my desk and say, “Hey, Dusty, Barney says you gotta stay off the tracks.”

Clearly this policy had more to do with a pent-up surplus of testosterone than any sort of common sense. I’ve not been a fan of security guards ever since.

On the other hand, I adore librarians. Growing up without TV, it was librarians who ushered me into fantastic worlds of knowledge from the moment my PF Flyers could take me to the neighborhood branch. As an adult who has spent my working life at newspapers and law firms, I can’t even count the times humble librarians have handed me invaluable information.

So I can’t say that I’m objective about the tension that exists between the security guards and the librarians at our spiffy new ALPLM.

I mean, the first time I went there, I had to surrender my driver’s license to get a locker key so I could stash my coat and purse — because coats and purses are not allowed in the microfilm room. Of course, to actually get microfilm, I had to fill out a form and hand it to a librarian, who retrieved the film from a secure area. One librarian apologized — before I ever got to the library. “I was not consulted about security arrangements,” she told me on the phone.

Librarians, see, have a passion for finding and sharing information. It’s pretty much why they became librarians. And these librarians, in particular, know that the material housed in the spiffy new facility is the same old stuff that’s been readily available for eons in the bowels of the Old State Capitol. Did moving to a new, more secure building suddenly make the stuff more vulnerable? This logic could drive a librarian to eat paste.

Lately, though, there has been an air of quiet giddiness among the stacks, because security policies have been relaxed. When I went to the library earlier this week, I didn’t have to sign in or surrender my driver’s license to visit the reading room.

Officially, this policy change came because the sign-in process created tourist logjams that were deemed a safety issue. Coincidentally, though, the change occurred four days after the fruitless visit of Yon.

Having toured eight presidential libraries — and even interned at the Harry S. Truman facility, cataloging papers — Yon knows protocol. So he had phoned, days in advance, and arranged for books to be held for him in the library’s reading room by “Amy.” But when Yon arrived on Saturday morning, the guard couldn’t find Amy.

Yon says at other libraries, researchers have access to librarians and guards stay in the background. “You definitely see them walking around, but they’re not in your face right when you walk in the door,” he says. The guards at the ALPLM were “definitely more of a presence,” he says. He had to go through them to find Amy.

But as it turned out, the guard who confronted Yon called the wrong Amy (the Amy who works at the museum, rather than the Amy who works at the library). By the time this mistake was discovered — some five hours later — Yon was long gone.

Still, he left with no bitterness about the library, mainly because he loved the museum. I’m sure it’s coincidence that the museum is staffed by friendly folks in polo shirts, and the security guards stay in the shadows.

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