Radio station plans to pay for mob damage in library

April 08, 1994|By New York Times News Service

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Classics by James Joyce, Alexandre Dumas and Zane Grey lay atop stacks of irreparably damaged books at the Fort Worth Central Library yesterday. Their spines cracked, covers ripped and pages torn, they seemed unlikely victims of a frenzied mob.

But these works of masters were among the thousands of books hurled from shelves and mauled Tuesday evening as more than 500 people stampeded through the library looking for money.

They were reacting to an announcement by a Dallas country radio station that it had placed $5 and $10 bills in books in the library's fiction section. The station, KYNG-FM, urged listeners to go on a treasure hunt.

Yesterday, as library employees continued inspecting books for damage, city officials, librarians, psychologists and even executives at KYNG were scratching their heads over how people could tear up a public library, and most were troubled by what it said about human nature and greed.

"Books were sailing, and elbows were flying, and people were climbing the shelves," said Marsha Anderson, the library's public information officer. She was preparing to leave work on Tuesday until people, ranging in age from their teens to their 60s, began streaming into the library after 5 p.m. searching for the money.

"To a librarian, that's sacrilege," Ms. Anderson said.

Dr. Jack Scott, a psychologist and director of Texas Christian University's counseling center here, said: "It was massive hysteria, a massive reaction in which there was a kind of contagion in the air. It was completely unstructured and irrational."

Even radio station executives were at a loss to explain the reaction to their impromptu promotion. While people looking for the money told library employees that they heard $10,000 was hidden in the books, the radio station maintained that only $100 was involved and that they had expected only about 30 people to go to the library looking for the cash.

Dan Pearman, KYNG-FM's program director, added: "And also the disrespect they showed was appalling. We were shocked."

He said the promotion was meant to "get people to think about when was the last time they went to the library."

To which Ms. Anderson replied: "They were all cracking books, all right."

She said crowds of people were rushing downstairs to the library's book collection, screaming, "Where's fiction? Where's fiction?" at startled reference librarians.

Mr. Pearman said that the station was re-examining its procedures for such impromptu promotions.

The station apologized, and yesterday it promised to pay for the costs of replacing the damaged books and to reimburse the city for the time librarians had spent picking up the 3,500 books knocked to the floor and pulling damaged books off shelves.

So far, library employees have identified 100 books that cannot be repaired and will cost $2,000 to replace. They have another 5,000 to 10,000 books to inspect for signs of damage.

Despite the payments, Fort Worth City Manager Robert Terrell said he would send a letter of complaint to the Federal Communications Commission. He has also asked the city attorney whether other legal action should be taken against the station.

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