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Oakland library windfall goes to the affluent; it's 8 p.m., do you know what Richmond is reading?; and good news for racial loan-shark victims.

Spread the words: It takes money, the saying goes, to make money. Well the same concept clearly applies to books.

In late April, as local politicians were entering their now-perpetual budget-slaying mode, Oakland Public Library officials turned to the online literary community for help. They appealed electronically for new-book donations and began setting up wish lists on the Web sites of local bookstores such as Cody's and Diesel, and also on Amazon, where people could log on and order items directly.

The effort quickly paid off thanks to a lucky break: Novelist Pamela Ribon, who maintains a Weblog at Pamie.com, began encouraging her readers to help out. To date, her endorsement has brought more than 500 titles flying into Oakland from all over the world, out of an estimated 600 to 700 books donated since the campaign began.

Not that there's a downside to this, but let's just say that the upside is considerably "upper" for libraries in well-heeled neighborhoods. The Piedmont Avenue and Montclair branches -- quite accustomed to community generosity, thank you -- already had Amazon wish lists in place when the pleas went out, and thus scored the bulk of the pricey new books, which were donated by well-meaning folks who don't know Montclair from Jingletown. Without naming the branches, Ribon directed her readers to the Amazon wish lists for Piedmont, Montclair, and main branches, in that order.

Well, what a difference the order makes. Piedmont got just over two hundred new books, says acting branch manager Jamie Turbak. And the Montclair branch, according to stats available on Amazon, received 91. Yet branches in poorer areas have fared, well, poorly: According to Amazon, the Golden Gate and Brookfield branches got just seven items each, and the Martin Luther King Jr. branch got five -- the average for those whose numbers Amazon listed was nineteen items. "It was actually very unfortunate in a way," Turbak says. "Definitely the poorer neighborhoods don't get much in adult or children's [section] donations."

Turbak figures most of the Pamie.com donors probably thought they were giving to the library as a whole. Yet while she says the Piedmont branch regularly passes along randomly donated books to any branch that needs them, it plans to keep the items ordered from its wish list. "We were lucky to have wish lists up," she says.

Other branches have since gotten their acts together: Oakland's libraries now account for 10 percent of all California library wish lists posted on Amazon. The West Oakland branch, for instance, wants Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism by Walter Lafeber. And Lakeview is hoping you'll buy it The Teammates by David Halberstam. But why not just have one central wish list, and then distribute individual books to the branches that wanted them? Such a system, after all, would have avoided the Pamie conundrum.

It all comes down to localism. Dana Heidrick, who develops adult collections for the library, admits the disparity is frustrating. But she feels all the libraries will ultimately benefit from keeping the lists separate. "I think we're probably going to get a more interested response if people can donate to their local branch," she says. "People from around the world are not going to keep giving us things, but we're hoping people from Oakland will."

In the meantime, several local bookstores have posted general library wish lists and, at 7:30 p.m. on July 31, librarians can ask Pamela Ribon to shuffle her links when she reads from her latest novel, Why Girls Are Weird, at Barnes & Noble in Jack London Square. -- Michael Mechanic

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's book: As long as we're talking Amazon, the site is a good way to get to know your municipal neighbors, or at least know what they're reading. And that knowledge can provide some insight into a town's psyche. Behold the current Amazon number-one sellers for some of our local burbs:

Antioch and Hayward -- The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language and Culture by Michael Savage

Alameda -- Roughing It by Mark Twain

Berkeley -- The Psychology of Consciousness by G. William Farthing

Concord -- Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them by Louise L. Hay

Danville -- Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers from Pre-School to High School by Judith Wynn Halsted

Dublin, Hercules, Newark, Pittsburg, San Leandro, and Union City -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

El Cerrito -- What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke

Fremont -- Developing Java Web Services: Architecting and Developing Secure Web Services Using Java by Ramesh Nagappan

Lafayette -- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Livermore -- The Low-Carb Comfort Food Cookbook by Michael R. Eades

Moraga -- The American Pageant: A History of the Republic by Thomas Bailey and David Kennedy

Oakland -- Cranium-Crushing Crosswords by Frank Longo

Orinda -- Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

Pleasant Hill -- Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money -- That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert T. Kiyosaki

Richmond -- Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America by Arianna Huffington

San Ramon -- The Four Pillars of Investing: Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio by William J. Bernstein

Walnut Creek -- The Virgin's Knot by Holly Payne

-- Compiled by Michael Mechanic

Hunting the loan sharks: Do minority auto loan borrowers pay more for their loans than white borrowers of equal creditworthiness do? Three class-action lawsuits, each based on the experiences of at least one East Bay plaintiff, say yes. And now, so does Governor Gray Davis.

The three suits filed in April by four Bay Area law firms against American Honda Finance Corporation, Toyota Motor Credit Corporation, and auto loan lender WFS Financial, claimed that minorities pay an average of $500 to $1,000 more per loan than their white counterparts. The suits claim the disparity is thanks to little-known, and often-shadowy, interest-rate markups tacked on by dealerships at the last minute -- the profits are then split between the dealership and the loan financer.

Although the markups show no discernible tie to the applicant's credit history or financial status, the suits claim they are disproportionately applied to African-American and Latino customers and thus constitute a racial bias (see "Car Loans as Pricey as the Car," Cityside, May 21).

The lawsuits got a nudge from the state last week, when Davis signed a bill carried by Whittier state Senator Martha Escutia aimed at curbing abusive practices in the auto loan industry. The new law will require dealers to keep copies of sales contracts for seven years or until the contract expires (whichever is longer), and gives the state attorney general the right to investigate dealers' paperwork if unfair markups are suspected. Offenders can be fined $5,000 per incident.

Attorney Bill Lann Lee of San Francisco firm Lieff, Cabraser, Hiemann & Bernstein, which took a leading role in filing the suits, says passage of the bill will bolster their arguments. "I think it's an indication that the issue that the cases raised -- that is, racially discriminatory markups -- is of sufficient concern to the state of California that it's asked the number one law enforcement officer to look into them," he says.

Despite attempts by Honda and WFS Financial to delay the suits and to dismiss the plaintiffs' claim for class monetary relief (class-action, that is), the cases against those companies are moving forward. Toyota is also contesting the class-action claim, but Lee thinks the judge will allow that suit to progress as well. After his firm filed the suits, he says, its hotline (800-998-3469) was deluged with hundreds more calls from Bay Area residents who believed they'd suffered similar discrimination by a wide variety of auto-loan lenders. The firm, he adds, is investigating those claims with an eye to filing additional cases. -- Kara Platoni

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