Libraries change lives. They sure changed mine, and more than once.
For instance, back at the end of fourth grade I went to the downtown library. I saw Mrs. Johnson, the first librarian I had ever met (way back at the bookmobile, which was another life-changing experience). We got to talking, I don't remember what about, but I do remember that she gave me a book called "The Dialogues of Plato."
That might seem like an odd thing to give a 10-year-old. But there are at least two explanations.
First, I was an odd 10-year-old.
Second, Mrs. Johnson believed in the Great Books. "You can read?" she thought. "Then you should read about Socrates!"
She was right.
The first dialog I read posed a deceptively simple question: "What is wise?" Then followed the most amazing conversation. Everything the student said was questioned, and questioned again, and again.
Until then, I had no idea that thinking, that talking, could be so much fun.
The other kids in my class were interested in ... well, I'm not sure what they were interested in. TV? Sports, some of them. But I know what I was interested in.
The examined life.
I want to tell you about a magical book. It's a book that tells several stories at once, filled with tragedy and humor and love. It does this utterly without words.
The book is called The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. It is, technically, a "graphic novel" -- a sort of hardbound comic book.
The cover looks like a worn leather folio, with a drawing of a man encountering some kind of bizarre animal. Just inside the covers is another arresting image: 60 faces, of every ethnicity.
The story begins in what I think of as "the old country." A man is packing up a photograph of his small family. Soon, we see them all walking through the city. Around them there are shadows: the tails of dragons, snaking through the gray streets.
The man boards a train, pulling away from the fingers of his wife and daughter.
Soon he is on a ship, along with many other emigrants. For several pages, we see nothing but clouds. Finally, he arrives to a country that is utterly bewildering. There is a big harbor, with statues in the water. There is an enormous hall.
A LONG time ago, my wife and I wrote an article about "green librarianship." Just then -- back around the late 1980s -- a lot of information was coming out about "sick building syndrome," and the toxic effects of some chemicals.
Since then, I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to practice the principles of green librarianship.
My continuing interest in this topic is based on an administrative realization. People imagine that the costs of library facility operations are all about their construction. That's not true. The cost is in operations.
There was a time when people wrote letters to their friends and families, providing a highly detailed record of people's lives and times. Those letters are archived in libraries and museums today.