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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.

Library Talk in the Dining Car

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 25, 2012

I took the train recently, and eating in the Dining Car is always a highlight of train travel.


The food is okay, but the community seating in the Dining Car allows you to meet and become acquainted with other people.


Upon being seated, the proper train etiquette is to introduce yourself to your new table mates, and provide a general description of your train trip.


The next question is usually “what do you do?”


Years of train experience suggests that I should “make up” some occupation rather than go through the usual reaction and questions related to the revelation that I am a librarian.


Don’t get me wrong, I love being a librarian and am thrilled to talk about it, but past experience shows that my food will be cold by the time I am done with the library questions.


This time it was dinnertime in the Dining Car, the first day out of Chicago, crossing the rolling landscape of Iowa.


I was seated across from a lovely couple from Virginia, who were both retired but had backgrounds in environmental sciences and had taught in various schools.


The initial graces had been exchanged and not wanting to “fib” I proclaimed that I am a librarian directing a countywide public library system in Ohio.


I watched for the reaction, and it was a flash of excitement on both of their faces. She rattled off a series of book titles that sounded like mysteries, and asked if I had read any of them.


I had to admit ignorance, and she disclosed that she was an author, and these were her books; although none had been published and appeared only in eBook format, sorta.


She hadn’t finished talking, when he began telling of his teaching experience and the libraries he had used back to childhood days.


Across the aisle, somebody was listing their favorite authors followed by “Do you know that one?”


Another person, with a mouthful of scrambled eggs, said that she thought most libraries had closed now with the Internet.


A grandmother at another table said, “Oh my no, libraries are busier than ever, I take my grandchildren to wonderful programs at the library in Colorado Springs!”


The arrival of the waitress for our beverage order stopped the library talk temporarily, switching it to everyone’s memorable library story.


I admit that I do enjoy people’s stories of how a library or librarian impacted their lives, and the stories all vary to some degree.


The conversation shifted to what I do at the library, and whether I had to read every book in the library?


My answer is “no,” librarians all read different things based on interest, but we do read reviews and portions of lots of books.


A librarian’s favorite saying is that “we know a lot of stuff about lots of things, but not a whole lot about anything specific.”  We are as smart as what we can look up in our libraries.


I guess librarians remain interesting to other people, and we are glad that people want to know about us and still love libraries.


The library talk slowed when our meals arrived, but when I saw my table mates later in the course of the train trip, they commented how they had enjoyed the library conversation.


I enjoy the community seating in a train’s Dining Car, as it allows us to have conversations with each other in a civil manner over a meal.


Perhaps we should do this in public restaurants as well.