June 18, 2008 - written for John, my father figure

Hello from the Foggy Bottom in Washington DC. Apparently, I am in the area of DC that was the deepest and murkiest part of the swamp. I love what they did with the place! It’s day number two, and after my great distance run this afternoon I can barely walk! Today was my first day at the National Library Service which provides services for the blind and physically handicapped. I am sitting in the window in my expensive room overlooking the street and surrounding hotels while a cool breeze blows at me on this most excellent almost summer evening.

So what’s happening? Foremost, this soon-to-be librarian has to learn how to read. Oops! This morning I arrived with my coworker at the Library of Congress. I overlooked the fact that although the Library of Congress has three buildings in downtown DC behind the capital, the blind services building is located about 30 minutes away from the capital downtown. Apparently, during the time of Sputnik (the first man-made object to successfully orbit the Earth in 1957 orchestrated by the Russians) the United States was serious about funding research, development, and education. Back then libraries got a huge chunk of funding – the National Library Service for the Blind got its own building back in the early 60’s. What can I say? It may be a bit dismal, but I think the glory days for library funding will never happen again… Maybe if people have to pay $10 a gallon for gas, they’ll be more likely to borrow then buy books… Continuing with my story, we arrived by taxi at NLS around 8:55AM – 25 minutes late, but librarians are forgiving people – heck, you have to be when you’re dealing with all walks of life that walk through the door.

The most interesting thing I learned today was that about 30% of eligible blind people in the general US population are gainfully employed. Interestingly, of those 30%, 90% can read Braille. Braille is so important to literacy. Braille volumes can be quite huge. A single volume of 450 pages costs about $105 to produce. Now, a Braille page does not hold the same amount of material as the printed page you and I are used to. Imagine the Harry Potter series. Book 4 of the series, (the Goblet of Fire) requires 10 Braille volumes to be mailed to a household to have the complete book. Now, the Harry Potter book is a bestseller and it would not be hard to replace. However, there’s older items that may not ever be rebound in Braille if we throw them away because of the costs of keeping them. Nevertheless,, the trend in the United States is to eliminate or scale back on Braille collections because of the storage costs. My library has one of the largest Braille collections remaining in the United States and talks continue to weed the collection and move the remaining collection offsite. Once those Braille books are destroyed, it is extremely unlikely that the knowledge in those books can ever be replaced. It’s my job as computer guy to show the management which books are not circulating so they can eliminate them more quickly… ugh! It’s just business, right? I guess it’s better to provide a service with the materials you can rather than close the doors because you did not remove the materials that do not commonly circulate.

Onward to better subjects – How was your afternoon run? Well, I’m glad you asked! Today I quickly gallivanted my way onto the trail leading into the city in Rock Creek Park. The trail is similar to Kelly Drive in Philadelphia with more ornate stonework and bridges. It just so happens that I crossed a bridge to Viriginia. Yes, I ran to Arlington, Virginia today. Interestingly, there was a thunderstorm taking place during my trot and I loved every minute of it. I don’t know if God’s Irish eyes were smiling down on me, but a massive double rainbow emerged! Where’s your camera when you need it? You should have seen them! Imagine this scene. You’re running across a bridge where a wide rainbow looks like its jutting out of a classic Roman building with huge columns. As you follow the huge arching rainbow, it flows over the tall Washington monument. Again, where’s my camera when I need it? It was completely exhilarating. I started running towards the widest end of the rainbow, reaching out joking to grab it with my hands. I later realized it was jutting out near one of the Smithsonian museums. I know Ireland has a reputation for rainbows... heck I lived there for a year and so a good many of them… however, this rainbow was one of the best I ever experience… and I have no picture to share … sorry! Meanwhile, I passed the ducks at the reflective pools today and I caught one of this quackers right in the middle of their business… if you know what kind of business I am talking about…

I guess I ran about 20-25 miles in the last two days. I guess that’s why I can hardly walk. Tomorrow we get the entire afternoon free after a tour of the Library of Congress at noon. I’m exciting to walk through the halls of an association that I will ultimately become a member in 9 short months. I’d like to visit the FBI, but I’ll settle for the Air and Space museum if I must...

So, I’m still sitting in the window, listening to Australian rocker Ben Lee, enjoying the breeze. I’ve been munching on Trader Joe’s goodies – the Foggy Bottom Trader Joe’s is just a few short blocks from my hotel. I wish you all well. Thanks for sharing in my thoughts and joy.