Monday, July 30, 2012

The Library in the Park

PalsmobileLast month I was out in Flagstaff, Arizona to meet with an astronomer for a story. After spending a day with him, trying to understand the particulars of charge-coupled devices, vacuum chambers, and lenses so large they can bend and twist, I needed to give my brain a rest, so I stopped by an outdoor concert in one of the small city parks. The music was great, the trees were green, the air was cool, and kids were running everywhere. Off to the side, the Flagstaff Library had stationed its colorful mobile book bus. I went over to take a look and met Marcia Hansen, a charming New England expat and youth services librarian. She explained that the library used the bus to extend its reach to remote Native American reservations. Out there, kids often have little or no access to books. With the van they can easily check out a few at a time.

What amazed me most about the van was its effect that night, on the local kids. I couldn’t believe how many of them were hustling in and out. People were dancing all around, there was no AC inside, and there was ice cream to be had out on the lawn, but these kids wanted to be in a library. One girl started crying when her dad tried to coax her out. Granted, she looked to be about the age at which a tantrum can come at any time, for any reason, but I’d prefer to believe a nascent love of literature prompted that particular protest.  

That’s it about the van. My librarian friend also lamented the glut of science-fiction books filling the shelves these days. I apologized for the fact that I’m working on one myself. Sometimes you can’t help what grabs you. If a story is waking you up at 4 in the morning and asking to be written, you have to get it out.