Almost 30 years ago now, I sat in on a lecture at a church. It stayed with me.
The topic was "rites of passage." The point was that in the United States our young people have no significant rituals through which they can become recognized as adult members of our society.
The biggest ritual is getting a driver's license. But 16-year-olds still have another two years of high school after that. At 18 they often leave home, and they can vote. At 21, they can drink.
In 1987, I became for the first time the director of a public library. It was "medium-sized" (serving between 50,000 and and 100,000 people), in a well-established city.
Shakespeare is hot.
Consider several high profile films: Kenneth Branaugh's "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing," and "Hamlet;" Lawrence Fishburne's critically acclaimed "Othello;" Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Callista Flockhart in "Midsummer Night's Dream;" Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, in "Romeo and Juliet;" and even Gwyneth Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love."
What's the appeal? Yes, Shakespeare has stood the test of time. But how come?
I have been writing at least one weekly newspaper column since 1987. How come? In almost every community in this country, the public library does good work. It provides access to a staggering array of intellectual resources. It almost invariably puts bright, funny, helpful people at its service desks. It hosts story times, sponsors stimulating programs for adults, and, in often beautiful buildings, offers free public meeting space.