A friend of mine recently lent me a copy - published in 1908 - of "The Story of Little Black Sambo."
As an artifact, it's beautiful. The binding is still snug, the cover illustrations still bright and appealing. The paper has hardly faded. The illustrations are for the most part whimsical, clever, and finely drawn. The print is large and handsome. They don't make books like that anymore.
It was once thought that the Big Bang -- that moment some 80 billion years ago when all the matter of the universe exploded from an unthinkably dense Cosmic Egg -- would eventually play itself out. Then, slowly, a universe of cold dust would tug itself back home.
So the universe might have a rhythm, like the breath of a baby: out, then in.
What is the public library?
I think I can boil it down to this: we are a cooperative purchasing agreement. By pooling relatively small amounts of money from many people, we can buy and maintain buildings, collections, and services that none of us could afford individually.
But every now and then, someone asks me, "How do you decide what to buy?" That is, how do library staff figure out precisely which titles of fiction, non-fiction, magazines, movies, and music should be added to our collections?
Let me tell you about the agony of being a weekly columnist.
The problem is not coming up with ideas. There's always so much going on in our libraries (not to mention my own head) that I've only had real trouble coming up with a topic just three times in 16 years.
In fact, there's so much going on around here, I often kick myself for having overlooked something that would have made a great column on that particular date.