In March of 1984, I made my second visit to Omaha. The first had been in 1962, a family vacation to visit my mother's sister, whose husband was a colonel in the air force -- a trip, incidentally, during which my youngest sister was conceived, according to family lore.
I had very little notion of what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was in my late twenties and had spent the previous eight months at NLM as a Library Associate, a circumstance that I would never have believed possible barely a year earlier. I was a sponge at NLM. I'd gone into library school with only the vaguest notion of maybe being a reference librarian in a small college library, and then found myself with free rein to explore the largest specialized library in the world, filled with some of the most fascinating and influential characters a tyro librarian would ever have the opportunity to meet. It had been an astonishing time, but I still didn't know what I wanted to do once my year as an Associate was up and I had to start thinking about finding a real job.
My mentors at NLM had me pegged for a management career. What they saw in me in those early days remains a mystery to me yet, I was so shy and uncertain, and at the same time so arrogant and pompous. Fairly insufferable most days, I'm sure. I knew practically nothing and my work experience was almost all in factories. I was a pretty good fork-lift driver and I'd built a modest reputation as a guitar player on my college campus, but that was about it.
Nonetheless, it was decided that for my March practicum (a standard part of the program in those days) I should spend a week with Bob Braude and his crew at the McGoogan Library of Medicine in Omaha. Bob was (rightfully) considered to be among the very best library directors of the day and he had gathered around him an astonishing group of innovative and creative and engaged young librarians. If one wanted to see the potential for what a library could be as we moved into the end of the 20th century, this was one of the best places to check it out.
I stayed at Bob's house and from the moment I groggily came down to the kitchen where he'd be fixing breakfast for us, until late in the evening after his wife had fixed another wonderful dinner, we'd talk about libraries and what was happening with them and how you could make them better and more effective and what it meant to try to pull together a crew of great librarians and turn them loose. During the day, I'd sit in on his meetings, I'd listen to all of the discussion. The meeting would end and Bob would say, "So, now you've heard the situation. What do you think we should do?" And we'd talk through his decision making process so that I could begin to get a grasp of the impossible balancing act that is required to juggle all of the competing interests that come into play for almost every decision that a director ends up making on any given day.
During most weeks, not much happens to change the course of one's life. On any given Sunday, you're pretty much the same person that you were the previous Sunday, and the contours of your life haven't shifted perceptibly. Some weeks, though, are clear turning points, and this was one of them. I remember, late on Friday, exhausted but happy, slumped in my seat on the metro, riding from National Airport up to my stop in Silver Spring, thinking back on the week. "That's where I want to be. I'm going to be the director of one of those libraries one day." Six years later, I was.
In the years since, it's happened that I've been to Omaha many times. While I was living in St. Louis, I would go up once or twice a year for the Regional Medical Library advisory meetings. I've always had a great time, and it's been fun to watch the downtown area grow and develop into a really great conference location. Even if it wasn't full of great memories for me, I'd be looking forward to the trip.
I've crossed paths in Omaha with a number of the women that I've loved, but the most important encounter was when I accepted Lynn's invitation to have dinner with her when we were both attending the Chapter meeting in 1993. I'd been to group dinners that she'd hosted two or three times before, but this was the first time that it was just the two of us, and even though it was a business dinner and neither of us could have imagined how our lives would become intertwined, I think back on it as one of the finest evenings I've ever had at a conference. We went to Vivace, a great little place in the Old Market. We have a reservation there for dinner tonight.
In the many times that I've been back to Omaha these twenty-three years, I think I've only been back to the McGoogan Library once. But I'll be there tomorrow night for the welcome reception. Mark Funk will be there, too. He was one of those incredibly bright and passionate young librarians that Braude had gathered around him a quarter-century ago. Now he's the President of the Medical Library Association, coming to the meeting to give an update on the work and workings of MLA. The reception will be loud and fun and there'll be lots of conversation and greetings of old and new friends and all the rest. But I suspect that Mark will be doing some of what I'll be doing as well -- looking around the corners, seeing his younger self here and there, remembering what it was like when that building played such an important role in his life, and all of the changes that have happened since.