Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Most of the damage done at the Georgetown Public Library in Washington, D.C. can probably be repaired. The 72-year-old building was being renovated room by room when a worker apparently misused the heat gun that set off a fire that burned much of the roof and incinerated the second floor - the children's section with big bright bean bag chairs.

The two hydrants closer to the public library didn't work. Instead the investigation is trying to find out why, but in any case when firefighters could hook up their hoses, water drenched valuable old books, rare maps of civil war fortifications and copies of newspapers that reported the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The loss is not incalculable. It's estimated at about $20 million. This week I found myself trying to calculate another loss. I did a little work in the Georgetown Library last winter. It was dim, dingy and notably rundown. Half-full old bookshelves creaked and sagged. Most of the books looked old, worn and weary. But the place was warm and bright.

People looked as if they had no other place to go, sat with their backs against the radiators and napped in corners, while steam hissed in the quiet. I remember one man in the timeworn old black pinstripe suit with huge lapels - a silver tie was spotted, but carefully knotted. He snapped out the broad white sheets of the Wall Street Journal like some mogul unfolding a large menu in a French restaurant, drinking in the words through cracked reading glasses.

I found myself wondering. Was he a former ambassador, a retired headwaiter, the next CIA station chief or law professor who drank himself out of a job and marriage and had nowhere else to go to read and stay warm?

There was a woman with a raw, red face in matted gray hair, who sat with the green-plastered garbage sack of possessions in her lap and read a romance novel called "The Raven Prince."

There were dozen of others wearing frayed flopping shoes tightly wrapped in two large coats from a church basement or a Salvation Army bin, who were reading John Grisham, Scott Turow, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell.

Georgetown students have a fine school library. Many Georgetown children whom you can see skipping along the cobblestone streets in their private school blazers and plaids will be welcomed to the local bookstores. But for people, who've been battered around by life, the Georgetown Public Library has been a warm safe place in a cold world where they could refresh themselves in books.

Until a financially strapped city can raised $20 million to rebuild that library, where will they go? How will they find and afford something to read? To them, the loss is incalculable.

Unidentified Woman: Let me tell you. You've never seen anything like that library - so many books, so much marble, so quiet.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small