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It’s nice to be Home

July 28, 2008

This column should become regular again, now that my store of vacation time is depleted. But this last trip, to points East, was most pleasant. People there whined about the heat and humidity, but I must say, it does wonders for your hair.

Some travel highlights? In DIA, I saw a young man crouched on a moving walkway leaning against the glass divider and listening to music on his iPod. But he was also working.

In front of him, against the glass, he held a special mop soaked with glass cleaner, and behind him he dragged a squeegee, cleaning the glass as he went. And so he crouched there, letting the moving walkway do the work, bopping his head to music only he could hear.

Would that every teenager used an iPod.

White, wooden rocking chairs are placed throughout the Charlotte airport. Brilliant. All of them were in use. The FAA should perhaps require them in every airport.

On the return flight, unfortunately, we sat on a Charlotte runway for an hour in the afternoon sun on a plane with a broken air conditioner.

The FAA should perhaps forbid this.

Boston had a security checkpoint right in the middle of the tangle of highway ramps leading into the airport. It was surreal, but then, Boston might be especially sensitive after 9/11. Inside the airport, scarved and shrouded women worked in prominent places. An interesting gesture.

Of course, the highlights of the trip also involved friends and family, swimming in the pool, the lake, and the ocean, and shopping at the Harvard Book Store and the Grolier Poetry Bookshop.

I didn’t check email much, but I did think about the library. In airports, I often marvel at the infrastructure in place for air travel. This trip, I thought about the similarities between airports and libraries.

It’s not such a stretch. It’s more than: They have lots of windows and we have lots of windows. More than: People come and go.

Airports provide an infrastructure for transportation but also for transformation. There are jaded travelers, of course, and people like “The Accidental Tourist,” but many people travel with enthusiasm for important reasons. Traveling is not especially easy, or cheap.

Friends in Salida traveled to India last winter for (sic) cataract surgery. Now that’s transformative … letting your new sight fall first upon India.

Transportation is generally not the thing itself (cruising F Street notwithstanding). Transportation helps travelers accomplish the thing itself.

This is the way I think of libraries. Public libraries are fine institutions, but public libraries really provide an essential infrastructure. You might think the infrastructure is about information, and so it is, but it’s really about transformation.

Public libraries are an essential part of the intellectual infrastructure that helps us transform ourselves, our communities, and our society. A public library is a pleasant enough thing itself, but its real power is in helping you accomplish the thing itself, whatever that is for you.

Your local library is part of an infrastructure that provides you access to an enormous, ever-increasing, store of knowledge … through its own collection, through the collections of other libraries, and through the Internet and a host of information sources not found through Google.

As I type this, a passing car blares especially inartistic hip-hop music, and I remember from our trip when a car passed us in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, blaring music at an equally rude volume … instead of hip-hop, though, it was bluegrass. Made me smile.

But it’s nice to be home.

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