I have always enjoyed reading books and articles about certain places written by foreigners. Whether it is the British writer Jonathan Raban writing about America, the early 20th century British adventurer, Freya Stark, writing about “Arabia”, or American journalist, Adam Gopnick, writing about Paris, there is something special in their writing that comes from seeing things through fresh eyes. When something is your everyday reality, there are things you take for granted or don’t even notice anymore. Or when you’re a part of something, it’s hard to see the big picture. Sometimes we need a de Tocqueville to show us what is right in front of our faces.
Perhaps this is why I was so taken with Michelle McLean’s writings about American libraries on her recent study tour. Michelle is an amazing librarian from Australia whom I had the pleasure to meet at Computers in Libraries this year. But I had already met her virtually through her writing. Michelle managed to get a grant that allowed her to do a study tour of innovative libraries in the U.S.; primarily in the East Coast and upper Midwest (wow! how do I get one of those grants?!?!?). She spent about a month here, visiting such libraries as the Princeton Public Library, PLCMC, Ann Arbor District Library, and the Thomas Ford Memorial Library. Her notes on each library are incredibly detailed and offer readers an excellent view into the facilities and services at these libraries. In many ways, I learned much more from Michelle’s impressions of PLCMC than I could have from reading a year’s worth of Helene Blowers’ excellent blog. While Helene offers all sorts of interesting insights, Michelle looked at the nuts and bolts of what PLCMC offers. And because she’s looking at all this through fresh eyes, she’s seeing the things that are amazing there, some of which are probably “old hat” at this point for Helene.
So check out Michelle’s amazing study tour and maybe learn a little more about what makes these innovative libraries so special. And subscribe to her blog, Connecting Librarian, because it was a great resource even before the tour and certainly will continue to be so in the future.