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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Cross-Country Train Trip

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 16, 2008

 

My wife and I just returned from a cross-country train trip.

 

Part of the delight of train travel, is the interaction with people on the train, from the dining car to the observation lounge car.

 

At meals, there is community seating that promotes old-fashioned conversation between total strangers.

 

The conversation usually begins with basic introductions, followed by a description of each person's arrival and departures and home and destinations.

 

Eventually, the conversation turns to occupations, which allows me to learn people's feelings about libraries.

 

Being a "librarian" seems to intrigue people and serves as a conversation-starter.

 

Sometimes I don't reveal my occupation and see if the other party will be able to guess from the conversation.

 

We were seated with a couple from Sandusky, and I commented what a nice library they had, and how it was the first Carnegie in Ohio.

 

A renovation has merged the library building with a neighboring building of similar architecture and era, and I talked about the excellence of the design work.

 

They were puzzled by my knowledge, and intrigued by the new information that I shared with them.

 

Both were avid library users, and asked questions about typical library operations and today's Internet.

 

Another dining car couple hailed from Berkley, and discussed their library habits for both the public and academic libraries of California.

 

California libraries are suffering through funding issues, and some have actually closed their doors.

 

An Iowa couple was traveling around the U.S. by train, visiting their children with a month-long train trip.

 

They talked about the abundance of Carnegie Libraries in Iowa's small towns, and the damage done to libraries in the June flooding in Iowa.

 

The Cedar Rapids Public Library was especially hard hit with 3 ft. of water on the main floor, and it will take 2 years before it can reopen.

 

Volunteers worked through the night to move the collection to the 2nd floor to save it from devastation.

 

A twosome from Grand Junction, Co. was on their way to Branson, Mo. and inquired about the impact of the Internet on library usage.

 

Donned in a cowboy hat, he was interested in what a public library "does" with computers and the Internet.

 

Three times we were seated with a retired Doctor from California, and he was more interested in our health conditions than the library.

 

His wife kept bringing the conversation back to libraries and her usage of them with their children, now grown with families of their own.

 

I converted two young men from North Dakota to library users.

 

We shared Lounge Car seats across Indiana and hadn't been in a library since high school, but never thought of libraries as a source of information for their need for an Internet class.

 

Yes, it really was a vacation and I didn't talk about libraries the whole time.

 

Guess you will have to confirm that with my wife.