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Monks, Monkees and Michael Bolton

Local librarians get a bonanza of CDs, and why shouldn't they be grateful?

Since August, Virginia Attorney General and gubernatorial hopeful Jerry Kilgore has distributed 138,000 compact discs to the state's schools, libraries, hospices and other worthy institutions. The CDs were supplied by eight major music distributors and retailers as part of the settlement agreement in a price-fixing case filed by the attorneys general of New York and Florida.

Under the settlement, the companies agreed to distribute "Pre-recorded Music Products" to each state based on population. Each state would then hand out music products in ways that furthered "music-related purposes or programs." Through this process, those victimized by the price-fixing policies of the past would be compensated.

But something must have gone horribly awry when the two sides sat down to work out a list of appropriate music products. Either that, or New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist have some decidedly unique musical preferences.

Spitzer spokeswoman Mari Arce insists this is not the case. Spitzer and Crist, she said, wanted "timeless music with broad appeal." But as in every settlement, "compromises had to be made."

Now librarians across the country are sifting through thousands of CDs by the Bee Gees, Aerosmith and other artists of the '70s and '80s. Many are not pleased.

"Libraries receiving hundreds of copies of Whitney Houston singing our national anthem or Gregorian chants does not serve the public good or fulfill the spirit of the settlement," Clara M. Bohler, president of the Public Library Association complained on the association's Web site.

In Virginia, where Kilgore distributed 1,635 copies of Whitney Houston's cover of "The Star-Spangled Banner," librarians say there is now little chance of a Whitney Houston shortage. The state is also well-stocked with copies of "Martha Stewart Living's Spooky Scary Sounds for Halloween." Richmond library users alone have 10 copies to choose from, plus 19 copies of the same Gregorian chant record and innumerable "best of" and "greatest hit" compilations from the 1960s through the 1990s.

Beth Morrelli, acting assistant director of city's public libraries, insists she was happy to get the CDs — the library's eight branches previously had none — although she may try to trade some of them to the Massey Cancer Center, which apparently received a lot of opera. "Martha Stewart Living's Spooky Scary Sounds for Halloween," the optimistic Morelli predicts, will be big. "People love that stuff," she says. "You have no idea. They listen to it all year round."

Supervising Librarian of Pamunkey Regional Library Patty Franz is still going through boxes. So far, she has 20 copies of a 3-CD set of "The Marriage of Figaro" performed by the Berlin Opera Orchestra, 10 copies of "The Monkees' Greatest Hits," and multiple CDs by the Bee Gees, Michael Bolton and, of course, Whitney Houston. The piece de resistance, though, is the Grateful Dead's 1980 album, "Go to Heaven," featuring band members posing in white, Saturday-Night-Fever-style polyester suits on the cover.

Henrico County's library officials got permission from Kilgore to take a pragmatic approach. All 1,800 of the county's settlement CDs went on sale last week for $1 each. The profits will be used to buy "new and well-reviewed" children's music, according to community liaison Courtney Melchor. By last Wednesday, the county had already moved 500 CDs. "Somebody out there must like Michael Bolton," Melchor observed. S

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