This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a few weeks now, but just haven’t had the time. Here’s the thing: since July, I’ve been on the Board of Trustees of the Sunnyvale Public Library — a 5 member board appointed by the City Council of Sunnyvale to overlapping 4 year terms — with the responsibility for advising the City Council on library-related issues acting as advocates for Sunnyvale citizens. There are other boards which are probably more active & politically exciting — but I care more about reading and literacy than I do about maybe anything else. So the Library Board was a good fit for me.
It’s been a very interesting thing to do. Not always exciting — we’ve got monthly board meetings which are open to the public — they’re generally pretty formulaic and not super-exciting. We get reports from the Library Director, Deborah Barrow (who I like quite a lot), and talk about library policies from time to time. One of the interesting things we’re talking about is the Library of the Future — no doubt a topic which most every public library in the world is wresting with, and has for some time. In Sunnyvale we’ve got just one branch, built in 1960 or so, to serve 130,000 residents (as of 2000).
But anyway, here’s the main thing that I wanted to say: it occurred to me during one of our sessions that the machinery of our civic life — the people and processes that run our towns & cities & states & countries — are mostly invisible until things go wrong or you want them to work differently. Sort of like technology, actually. You use the end product every day, and generally things work. You only pull back the covers to see how the internals go if you want to change things or affect them.
Seems like maybe that’s the way things always work in our society, for better or worse: small groups of people do the heavy lifting to create the infrastructure that we all use every day.
Here’s a picture of what happened during a break in one of our meetings: the mayor and the parks department planted a tree (a gingko tree) for arbor day outside the library. Maybe 15 small kids and their parents were there, plus some of the city council members and library board members. Plus a couple of guys from Parks & Rec, who clearly know a *ton* about their work and were incredibly gracious and open in talking about the tree to the kids. I was really happy to be there.