Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Otis Library is a Mirror and a Window

Andrew Carnegie, who knew a thing or two about a thing or two, and whose Gospel of Wealth helped create and advance the idea of philanthropy in the United States, once noted "a library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in a desert."

With other weather and our three rivers, Norwich will never be confused with a desert, but I was thinking about how much the downtown Norwich we fret about so (too?) often in print and at public meetings, so frequently looks to the Otis Library on Main Street the way the fingers of our hands hand look to the thumb.

There are many brave beginnings across and throughout Chelsea, but whenever I'm in/near Franklin Square, I've lost track of all the places to eat that have sprouted up around Otis, like flowers after a spring rain. Talk about spoiled for choice, and where Epicure and Commerce intersect. The restaurants are there because that's where the ebb and flow of foot traffic, like me on Saturday, is.

And I was at the Otis Library on Saturday, to enjoy the traveling version of The Smithsonian's Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean to Be Human? exhibit upstairs in the community room through February 3. I wasn't alone, not by any means. A nice flow of folks, by themselves, with a friend or, in some instances, small children made their way around the room trying to take it all in and not so coincidentally helping me prove my previously offered point about attracting traffic.

And since we're talking about an exhibit that traces millions of years of human development to get us to where we are now, let me detour to before I and my family arrived here a quarter of a century ago when, I've been told, Walter Way, then as now active in city politics and community development, would tell anyone who would listen, and many who chose not to, that an alliance with an organization like the Smithsonian to bring to town just this kind of exhibit would do wonders for the region and the city's economic growth. He was right then and he's right now.

It would seem, and I say this after watching many of those coming out of Otis who headed to the newly-opened Asian restaurant on the corner across from the Buckingham Memorial and others who sought out Spanish and Chinese cuisine closer to Franklin Square that visitors to cultural events in the nearly-always underfunded-by-the-city library work up the same kind of appetites that folks who go to sporting events and vacation parks do. Who'd have thunk it?

I shouldn't be surprised. As I learned at the exhibit, no matter who we are or where we're from we share over 99% of our DNA with the person standing beside us examining those models of human skulls as you enter the exhibit. As for that double digit sharing of the same DNA with a banana, yes a banana, not you know why I wear a ball cap when I go to the produce section in the grocery. As well as a whole new appreciation for the origins of our President-Elect, somewhere in the snack aisle, near the Frito-Lay display.
-bill kenny

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