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In the Library

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There is a lovely little library in the Berkeley neighborhood of Elmwood, in California. The rumble of the world recedes when you step inside. On one side, little kids sit with the librarian learning the pleasure of opening a book. Across the way, at the tables sit the readers of public books, a silent minority.

One old man had a large drip on the end of his nose. It hung precariously over a reference book, maybe a medical dictionary. More evidence of global warming, I thought. It gave me the chills. An old lady was reading the newspaper. It looked like an odd thing to do. Some terrorist rampage was on the front page. A young bespectacled hipster was flopped over a Mac at the next table, no spectacle there.

I was in the mood for blowing up a few eggs. I sat down with a cookbook to copy a recipe for a soufflé. And then I noticed the thumbprint on the soufflé page, strong evidence of another egg blower. I hovered my thumb over the imprinted digit. This was obviously the thumb of a lady. I imagined her in her kitchen, her hands dripping with eggs, her soufflé rising. It was quite exciting to discover her fingerprint. I looked up to see the old man's drip splatter on to the page. It was an inconvenient truth. Sharing books meant sharing people. I borrowed a Sherlock Holmes novel on my way out.

Libraries are about people. Not books. Although without them, we would have no libraries. When we gather under the sanctuary of a roof to read together, we know we belong. Long may the library door be open. And mysterious fingerprints will linger.

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