Libraries, Boston, Alexandre Vattemare, and me.

imageOne of my favorite places in Boston is one of it’s best kept secrets. It’s not obvious how to get there, or that it even exists, but secreted within the bowels of the Boston Public Library is a beautiful courtyard. It’s a wonderful, quiet, relaxing place to spend an afternoon reading. There’s even a little coffee shop just before one of it’s entrances.

This afternoon I went on an excursion. In my quest to expand my mathematical knowledge I bit off a bit more than I was ready to chew with The Nature of Mathematical Modeling.

It came highly recommended and would be great knowledge for my new job, if only I had the mathematical vocabulary required to read it. So, a few steps back, maybe a refresher course in linear algebra. But, alas, I had to return it having barely started in on it, and that’s what brought me to the library, where I was given a wonderful reminder of the power of unexpected individuals.

You see, once upon a time there was a french man named Alexandre Vattemare with a talent for voices. Some have called him the world’s greatest ventriloquist, but that is only what made him famous, not what made him great. Alexandre’s talents enabled him to travel the world, meet emperors and the crowned heads of Europe, and that enabled him to make connections. Alexandre used those connections to create a system of international exchanges between libraries which later expanded to include art, maps, and specimens of natural history. It was because of him that a young United States came to acquire 300,000 volumes for it’s libraries, and because of him that the Boston Public Library came to be.

I have long believed that the public library is one of the greatest things about the United States. It’s not that we have them, it’s that they are supported by law, that they are open to anyone without regard to money, status, or even citizenship. They aren’t owned, and thus controlled, by private individuals. The people of every state have collectively decided to build and support an institution where everyone can go to better themselves even if they don’t have a penny to their name.

I don’t think many of us have any idea just how amazing this is. I don’t think many people have given it much thought, or realize that this is something that simply doesn’t exist for many people around the world. What an incredible privilege it is to have a place you can go to learn the skills you need to do practically anything… It’s a place where you can go and learn that no matter how quirky your skill or personality, you have the power to change the world, because there are hundreds of volumes on people like Alexandre Vattemare whose penchant for making cadavers “speak” got him expelled from medical school and, ultimately, gave me my favorite place in Boston.