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http://timesunion.com/AspStories/story. ... =9/13/2007
Water pistol prizes draw a sharp rebuke
Albany library official says only a few were given out as rewards for summer reading program
By TIM O'BRIEN, Staff writer
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First published: Thursday, September 13, 2007
ALBANY -- A Common Council member criticized the Albany Public Library for handing out water pistols as prizes for students who read four books this summer.
Council member James P. Sano, a Democrat, said the library's Pine Hills branch sent the wrong message to children at a time the city has formed a task force on gun violence.
"They must have been out of rubber knives and candy cigarettes that day," Sano said as he waved the toy gun during the council's caucus last week. "They couldn't give out books or bookmarks?"
Tim Burke, the acting director of the library, said it was a mistake that won't happen again.
"They buy these bulk packages of prizes that included a couple of those," he said. "It was just a few out of many, many prizes we handed out."
Sano said he took the water pistol from a 9-year-old boy while working as a lifeguard, and the child told him where he had received it.
"I was surprised and disappointed that this was a prize that was given away," he said. "We shouldn't send mixed messages to kids that we give a replica of a firearm."
The issue is especially sensitive after Shahied Oliver, 15, of Albany was gunned down Aug. 18 at a birthday party in the Skyline Gardens Apartments in Arbor Hill.
Another 15-year-old, Nahjaliek McCall of Green Street, has been charged with the murder and pleaded not guilty last week in Albany County Court.
This year's statewide theme for the library reading program was "Get a Clue at Your Library." Burke suspects the water pistols were meant to go along with the detective theme, but said he wishes they were not given out.
"We certainly should have been more sensitive about that," he said.
The reading program aims to help keep kids off the street and out of trouble, Burke said. This year, 800 children and teenagers participated, reading a total of 3,400 books.
"It was a wonderful, successful summer reading program that is meant to teach kids to do important things instead of hanging around with guns and drugs," he said. "We would like to take that back if we could."
Tim O'Brien can be reached at 454-5092 or by e-mail at [email protected].