When I was a kid (one of five), my parents could afford only one vacation a year: a car trip from north of Chicago to my mother's folks in Ohio. It was usually in the hottest month of the year.
The interstate highway program was still under development back then. For years, the trip took 10-12 hours, as we stuttered, stoplight by stoplight, on the two lane roads through Chicago, then Gary, Indiana (whose sky was always red, even at night), and across Indiana.
Eventually, with I-94 and I-80, the trip got whittled down to six hours, allowing no more than two potty breaks.
Imagine five kids in the back of a Ford four-door. No seat belts. Six hours. Pre-air-conditioning. Parents who smoked more or less constantly, interrupted only by the usual threats: "Don't make me stop this car! Do I have to come back there and separate you two?"
It's a wonder any of us survived.
I brought comic books and science fiction novels, because it didn't bother me to read in the car. But we usually had to fall back on dumb Interstate games -- finding a license from the farthest away state, looking for words on billboards, extra points for being the first to spot a VW bug, and so on.
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.
You probably didn't know this: some libraries aren't big enough to hold their own stuff.
Several years ago, I got it into my head to look at what percentage of our materials were checked out at any given moment. I was impressed to discover -- at least about five years ago -- that the answer was "around 25%."
Then I realized something else: if those materials came back, we had nowhere to put them. We depended on at least that level of use to allow us to buy anything new.
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.