Ridiculous, Meet Sublime
Remember the old saying assuring us that even fools come in out of the rain? My new corollary is: Even naysayers need shelter from the storm—especially when the naysayers don’t realize it.
There’s one particular naysayer I have in mind: Tommy Wayne Kramer, columnist for the Ukiah (Calif.) Daily Journal. Yesterday, I found myself combing through an embarrassment of riches penned by Kramer, namely his February 22 essay “Save the County, Close the Libraries.” (Caveat: Some of the commenters interpret Kramer’s no-holds-barred style as satire; amazingly, others agree with him.) In advocating for the death of the Mendocino County Library system, Kramer piled on so many insults to libraries (“the blacksmith shops of the 21st century”) and the people they serve (“drunks and transients and people looking to bathe in public bathrooms”) that it was hard to select just one “gem” for AL’s “Public Perception” department. (Here’s what I chose; the full article is available through Newsbank.)
I had a particular storm in mind as well, and not just a metaphorical one. I was thinking of the nor’easter that tore through New England last weekend, wreaking havoc in three states. After reading that Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell had declared Greenwich a disaster area in the storm’s aftermath, I asked GPL Director Carol Mahoney how the library had fared. Today, after I got off the phone with Mahoney and Kate Petrov, GPL’s public relations officer, I wondered whether naysayer Kramer would have been enlightened by the conversation.
Luckily, said Mahoney and Petrov, all three libraries were spared damage and power outages; instead GPL’s three facilities experienced a power surge—of users, that is. Yesterday’s gate count systemwide was more than 4,767, more than double the traffic seen on a typical Monday, and was in fact, a historic high for any day of the week, Petrov told American Libraries. With half the town of more than 61,871 left without electricity, some until at least week’s end, it’s no wonder. “Wherever there was an outlet, people were plugged in,” Mahoney said.
However, residents weresn’t just recharging their laptops and cell phones, but also their spirits; the library responded by keeping its doors open four hours longer than scheduled—or budgeted. [CORRECTION: New Canaan (Conn.) Public Library extended its service hours in response to the nor’easter, not GPL.] Among the grateful who flocked to GPL was library board member Claude Johnson, who told Mahoney that what he observed was “a beautiful sight: people sharing small tables, others sharing stories or sitting patiently and busily on the floor, some offering help to those who needed it.” In other words, “a genuine and memorable testimony to the nature of this community, and to how you and your team are leading and running the library itself.”
That’s what libraries do for a community, which comes as no surprise to people living along the Mississippi River, the Gulf Coast, and elsewhere who have toughed out natural disasters. As for those toughing out the economic downturn, the numbers served by the nation’s libraries speak for themselves (PDF file).
Mr. Kramer, if you wanted your column to be taken at face value, it’s time to come in out of the rain. If you were instead practicing reverse psychology on the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, please distribute some umbrellas. Just in case.