Thursday, July 26, 2007

Nancy Osgood and the Power of Perpetual Motion

To be a stop on Nancy Osgood's route is a wonderful thing.

She's a familiar sight as she zips from one place to another in town, from the Norwich Historical Society, of which she is a volunteer and president, to our library, where she performs the tasks that help our books to survive the many passages from library to patrons. Nancy is a book processor, adding the protective covering and identifying stamps and labels that mark the volumes of our collection and tell shelvers where they ought to be placed.

Nancy has always fascinated me. She is such a dynamo and has so much direction. A Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania native, Nancy taught fourth grade to the lucky children of Concord, Massachusetts, for many years. She still volunteers with children at the White River School, using the Orton-Gillingham method, a multi-sensory and kinetic program for improving decoding skills in young readers.

When Nancy isn't promoting literacy, protecting books, and fostering an interest in Norwich history, her idea of a good time is an archeological dig. She's gone after Jurassic mammal bones at the DInasaur National Montument and dug at the Popham Colony in Maine, a settlement which was a contemporary of Jamestown. She enjoys a good walk and loves spending time with her grown sons, both of whom live in the Boston area.

Simply being in Nancy's presence is energizing. Intelligent, generous, and community-spirited, she's a one-woman gift to the community. To Nancy, it's all no big deal. She says simply, "Life is full. So why sit around?"

Monday, July 9, 2007

Party On, Librarians

If you hear us clearing our throats this week and see us herding patrons in the direction of the Sunday New York Times Style section, it's only that our ship has come in at last. On the front page,a headline reads, "A Hipper Crowd of Shushers," and a deck below it adds,"Today's librarians? Think high-tech party people."

Well! It should take me no time at all to install black lights in the computer area, the better to highlight our da-glo make-up and fingernail polish. If our time has come, we mean to experience it fully. We'll install espresso and bistro bars in the non-fiction and fiction rooms respectively, and we'll have to remind Lucinda to hire us a house band. The new chairs in the fiction room should be perfect for all the soirees that lie ahead of us.

Oh, wait. That's the New York Times. I don't suppose we'll see bars that cater especially to the library crowd with Dewey Decimal-themed drinks any time soon. This is Vermont. Lucinda, cancel the band. Still, motivations for going into librarianship ring true:

Working as a librarian is intellectually stimulating, and the hours are reasonable, for those who have creative pursuits beyond work hours;
Handling information is a call to activism for idealistic folks who see bad things happening when access to information is restricted;
The increase of technology in libraries provides new challenges for a more diverse talent pool.
Librarians as a group are seen today as "smart, well-read, funny people who seem to enjoy their jobs."

Well, shucks. But we do enjoy the job, especially the patrons, who are a delightful part of it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


I wouldn't want to offend the copyright gods that control Tinseltown, but you should know that Children's Librarian Beth Reynolds will be offering a screening of a classic Hollywood comedy Thursday night, July 5, at 7 p.m.

By not naming it here, we can avoid paying a fat fee and can show it to you for free.

I saw this film at Dartmouth a couple of years ago, and it was hilarious. If you have children and want to take them to a great film that will truly delight the entire family, or if it's been years since you've seen the fellow in the picture, please join us!

You certainly won't be sorry.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Garrison Keillor's Library Fix

I've 'borrowed' this from Salon, the online magazine--Garrison Keillor's lovely tribute to America's libraries.

When politics gets mean and dumb, you can cheer yourself up by walking into a public library.
By Garrison Keillor

June 27, 2007 Consumer confidence was down in June, and so was mine, though for other reasons. I see politics stuck in a spiral of dumbness and the Republican candidates -- the Cavalcade of Unhappy White Men -- leading the way. The other day, Mr. Giuliani came out against "putting government in a situation where government is in charge of so many different things," and a short time later he called for the government to build a fence the length of the Mexican border, "a technological fence," which I guess means something fancier than a mud fence, possibly using kryptonite. And shortly thereafter, he and his fellow Republican candidates arm-wrestled to see who could be more in favor of torture, or "enhanced interrogation techniques," as it's called now.

When politics gets mean and dumb, you can cheer yourself up by walking into a public library, one of the nobler expressions of democracy. Candidates don't mention libraries -- they're more likely to talk about putting people behind bars and no coddling or shilly-shallying with appeals and that judicial nonsense, just throw them in the dungeon and stick their heads in the toilet and do what you gotta do -- and yet when I walk into the library near my house and see a couple hundred teenagers studying, most of them Hmong or Vietnamese, I see the old cheerful America that Washington has lost touch with, the land of opportunity.

The library is the temple of freedom. Growing up, we kids were aware of how much of our lives was a performance for adults. In school, at church, in Scouts, adults were watching, cueing you, coaching, encouraging, commenting; but in the library, you didn't have to perform for the librarian. She simply presided over an orderly world in which you had the freedom of your own imagination. The silence was not repressive but liberating: to allow your imagination to play, uninhibited by others.

Of course, a boy's imagination headed in some directions that the public library could not satisfy, or would not satisfy -- I thought that those particular books were kept behind the librarian's counter and that if she liked me, she would let me see them, so I was a very, very good boy, but then it dawned on me that she probably thought a very, very good boy wouldn't be interested in that sort of thing. (This would happen to me often with women.)

Libraries have rushed forward into the new age (whichever one we're in now), and the word "librarian" is out. They're Information Professionals now, and it's a Media Resource Center, and it's wired to the max. Just as we novelists have become experiential document specialists producing sensory-data-based narratives encoded in a symbolic format that informally we refer to as English. But a library is still a library. It's a place where serious people go to have the freedom to think without anybody poking and prodding them, in the company of other serious people who sit silently around us and yet encourage us in our own pursuits and projects.

My old hometown Carnegie library with the columns and high-domed ceiling was irreplaceable, and so of course it was torn down by vandals in suits and ties and replaced with a low warehouse-looking library that says so clearly to its patrons, "Don't get any big ideas. This is as good a library as you clowns deserve." But the spirit lives on, in the ranks of dedicated women and men who run the place.

The ceremonial strut of candidates competing to show cruelty is pornographic politics. The thrill of talking about torture -- "I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of," said Mr. Giuliani. "Water-boarding?" asked a reporter. "... Every method they could think of," said Mr. Giuliani -- it was like a bad novel come to life. (The bald man looked out the window toward the trees where the prisoners were sitting chained to each other. He lit a cigarette. "Use every method you can think of," he said quietly. "How about red-hot needles?" asked the lieutenant. "How about dragging them behind trucks and beating them with barbed wire?" The bald guy smiled. "Spare me the details," he said. "And get me the information.")

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)
(c) 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved.