The Magic of Astronauts and Libraries

One of the greatest joys in my life is getting to hear authors talk about their stories. This year I had the honor to listen to Astronaut Scott Kelly talk at the Unity Temple in Kansas City. Kelly set the record for the greatest amount of time in space for an American. He spent a year on the International Space Station and orbited the Earth 5,440 times. I would recommend his book “Endurance.”

While I am not an Astronaut, I do complete a daily orbit of the Central Resource Library. While Kelly saw 5,440 sunsets and sunrises in a year, I get to see something equally amazing each day.

Today it was a woman reading while sitting in a chair as the winter sun came through the window. Immersed in pools of light and silence she sat. Just down the way, sat a man whose cranium was wrapped and wound in headphones, fingers barking out a staccato rhythm of productivity, eyes set in furious concentration.

As I wander down the length of the building, a toy train circles the tracks in a miniature Norman Rockwell cityscape. Each piece lovingly assembled and displayed. Anyone that has ever sat with a loved one and assembled a trainset on a Christmas morning will feel the ache of that memory.

I look up and see a librarian carefully placing books on the hold shelves for patrons to pick up. I love the e-mail that tells me a book is waiting for me, a book that I have eagerly anticipated reading. A book that has been in the hold queue for so long I had forgotten all about it and now it is here!

I pass the magazines with their bright shiny covers of beautiful people and gorgeous food and the promise of six pack abs and swimsuit bodies. Periodicals make me feel old and I shuffle past them as quickly as I can.

On the other side there are three men reading newspapers, the kind made of paper that you need a large table to hold their unmanageable width. A newspaper is not something that will fit in your pocket. You need space and some time to read a newspaper.

In the Carmack room, children are making Gingerbread houses, there is lots of icing and cookies are the masonry of choice. Each child is committed to the trade. Parents look on in awe has their progeny achieve a new level of stickiness and make magic with each little house of wonder.

People are browsing row after row of books, walking slowly, peering at books spines, and stopping to pluck a gem from the shelf, like an angler pulls a fish from the sea. Sometime the book is released and placed back on the shelf, other times it is opened and pages are scanned, a moment of serendipitous discovery and delight. The book, now held in the readers’ hands will travel outside the library and voyage into the world.

The study rooms are full of people meeting and talking. The whiteboards are worn and greyed by the thousands of sentences that have been written and erased, equations calculated and erased. In each of these rooms a myriad of crafted business plans and strategies have been argued over, discussed, formed, and then reformed. These spaces are incubators of ideas and the imagination. Each holding dreams, struggles and triumphs.

Scott Kelly shared that five space agencies from fifteen countries helped build the International Space Station. It is about the size of a football field and flies around the Earth at an altitude of 248 miles above the planet. Many of the scientists and engineers that build the Space Station do not speak the same language, but they worked together on this joint project. This gives me so much hope for humanity. I know that we can work together and achieve the most amazing things.

As the year ends, I wanted to take a moment to recognize you, our staff. Each day you come to work and make the world a better place. You change people’s lives in ways that you cannot see. You hold true to the mission and vision of a public library. I am grateful for the work you do and wish you the best in the upcoming year.