Magazine article American Libraries

Penny for Your Thoughts

Magazine article American Libraries

Penny for Your Thoughts

Article excerpt

Several years ago I stayed at a little hotel in the heart of the French Quarter. Although I was alone, I was never lonely. For companionship all I had to do was sit at my window and enjoy the mysterious alchemy in the street below.

In the morning, the Quarter was a dark-haired sleeping beauty who rose from her slumber a little before noon in search of a strong cup of coffee and a quiet bench by the river.

By mid-afternoon she had morphed into a ruddy-faced tourist wearing Bermuda shorts and smelling of Coppertone.

In the early evening this ruddy-faced person, now sporting a "Hi, My Name Is Fred" badge, had become boisterous from spending too much expense-account money on bright-red alcoholic drinks.

By midnight, my companion had evolved into a lusty, dark-eyed harlot with a slinky dress and a seductive smile.

With each transformation, one thing stayed the same - a beggar was always around and getting in the way. This beggar, I concluded, was on a mission to remind us of the Biblical promise that the poor will always be with us.

It's a mission that librarians will have to deal with later this month when they attend the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans June 24-30 to talk about old problems and new solutions. The problem of poverty is an old one, but for many of us who live and work in rural and suburban areas, it's also invisible. We haven't had time to grow the callous hearts needed to survive in the central-city jungle. For us, the issue of how to handle the panhandlers at ALA continues to be a troublesome one.

It is often said that many of the best conversations at conferences take place in bars, bistros, and cocktail lounges. Oddly enough, the best conference conversations I've been privy to often take place in hotel elevators. There's a closeness about elevators that invites talking and eavesdropping. Several years ago I got on an elevator at the 43rd floor of my New Orleans conference hotel. On the 41st floor two rosy-cheeked librarians came aboard. "How do we deal with all the beggars out there?" I remember one librarian saying to the other.

By the time we reached the lobby, the two librarians had mapped out a matrix of four quite thoughtful and workable options with all the pros and cons carefully considered. These options were based on the premise that if they skipped lunch at the conference center (not a great sacrifice) and limited themselves to two hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's (also not a great sacrifice), they would have $15 each day to give to street people. …

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