Books, libraries, and rock and roll

Readers of my other blog, Digital Doorway, know that I love books and reading. Last year, I read more than 30 books.

My mother is the one who taught me that books matter, and that reading is important, walking me down to Lisbon Falls Community Library in June, 1970. School was out for the summer and she wanted to enroll me in the library’s summer reading program. I read a book a week for 10 weeks. I’ve been in love with reading ever since.

In addition to books and reading, libraries are also places forever associated for me with quiet spaces, a place of escape—and if I may say this without sounding overly dramatic—libraries offer an oasis from the barrage and busyness that has become everyday life in America. Of course, not all libraries are created equal. While researching my first book, When Towns Had Teams, my winter mornings at Portland Public Library might find me sitting next to a homeless man, coughing like he had TB, while alternately farting, never thinking twice that others around him might be trying to get some work done. I did find this annoying at times, but it was another reminder of libraries’ uniquely democratic qualities as public spaces.

When I was a student at the University of Maine at Orono, I loved to sit in their periodicals room and read some of the major dailies from across the country, and even the world. It was 1981 and I remember students could smoke in the area. It seems bizarre today, given that smoking has been outlawed nearly everywhere, but 30 years ago, there weren’t many space where you couldn’t smoke, including on airplanes, oddly enough.

Libraries have become much more than merely a place that brings together books and readers. During the economic recession that began in 2008, many people that had lost jobs turned to libraries as career resources and places to access technology.

Numerous studies document that more than mere repositories for books, libraries now play a central role in strengthening local economies, helping citizens with early literacy and school readiness, and also serve as key partners in workforce development, providing career and employment resources, as well as enhancing technology skills that the 21st century world of work requires in order to succeed. In our own region of Maine, the Waterville Public Library has their own business and career services librarian, and their programming reflects this new workforce orientation for libraries.

Next week, I’ll be in Arlington, Virginia, participating in the Project Compass National Convening. This is part of a national focus for Project Compass, providing support and resources for public libraries’ efforts to meet the urgent and growing needs of communities impacted by the economic downturn.

Having been involved in workforce and career development for a decade, the past six years working at the center of Maine’s public workforce system, with one of the state’s four Local Workforce Investment Boards, this conference appears to be a perfect fit for what I’ve been doing, and the direction I’m moving in, in my own career. Recently, I landed an opportunity to serve as a consultant for Auburn Public Library. This new position is providing a place for me to merge my knowledge for workforce with a need that the library has in connecting to economic development partners in the community. It was also fortuitous for me, seeing that my hours were suddenly cut in half at the LWIB six weeks ago, launching my own entrepreneurial activity, and my efforts to fill-in the income hole resulting from my reduced hours.

I’m excited to be headed to Arlington for this two-day conference. I think it will be an opportunity to use the knowledge I’ve developed about workforce and economic issues, and learn more about the national effort to better integrate libraries into the public workforce system’s delivery of career services and training, a role they’re perfectly positioned to fulfill. It also offers me the chance to move the JBE to a national stage.

I’ll be blogging from the conference, sharing thoughts and insights. I’ll then bring this back to Maine and work to plug this back into the work I’m doing in Auburn and elsewhere.

Let me wrap this up by bringing together books and rock and roll, the latter another longtime passion of mine.

I just finished Duff McKagan’s It’s So Easy (and other lies), his harrowing account of his time playing with Guns N’ Roses, and descent into addiction, and subsequent recovery, becoming sober after nearly dying from abuse of alcohol and drugs. However, the book is so much more than the standard tale of sex, drugs, and rock and roll story, by a former rocker.

McKagan, who I happened to hear interviewed on Jim Rome’s national sports talk radio program several weeks back, comes across with the same personal transparency and humility that I picked up on when I heard him on the radio talking with Rome. When drugs and alcohol nearly kill you and you are offered a 2nd chance, I think it changes your perspective. This was obvious in listening to McKagan speak.

This is the second rock and roll-based book that I’ve read, recently. I’m enjoying reading some different books during this first quarter of 2012. McKagan doesn’t glorify the rocker lifestyle; neither does he downplay the aspects of being in a band and the personal dynamics that creep in and ultimately afflict bands like GN’R after they hit it big. In fact, McKagan’s account is one of the more honest treatments I’ve ever read about addiction and the downward spiral that addicts encounter. The book was actually quite uplifting, especially the last section after he cleaned up and turned his life around.

I found McKagan’s story to be a heroic one and a great example of personal reinvention. I also learned quite a bit about one of the most popular bands of the 1990s and how fame and fortune (and drugs and alcohol) poisoned what had been a special bond that these bandmates shared, and how it all went sour, as they shot up the ladder of success and experienced rock stardom and all its excesses.

Libraries have certainly changed, but you can still find good books to read when you go there, which is one of the reasons that I keep coming back to these special places.