A Stranger's Gift

I have one particular addiction: books. There's very little that I don't like about them, from an orderly line of them occupying a shelf, the heft and weight, to their universal format that allows them to be accessed by everyone. (That sounds like a dig against eBooks, but it's not). Inevitably, when I am drawn to a bookstore, I end up with a couple volumes that caught my eye under my arm as I leave the store. This happen earlier today after a late lunch when Megan and I wandered back home. A local store, The Book Garden, is holding a sale for their used books, buy one, get another free. I've picked through the store pretty well, and I'm always happy to see that they've got a replenished collection every time that I go in. This particular trip, I found that they had a pair of Harry Potter novels, The Sorcerer's Stone and The Deathly Hollows, neither of which I had, and both in hardcover. I've bee working to get all of the book for my own collection (in hardcover), and used bookstores usually have a couple of them, I picked up the pair, intending on adding them to my collection (with just a couple of others (Books 4 and 6) left to pick up after that before I had the entire set.

The books bagged, We walked home along Barre St, where we came across a trio of children playing on the sidewalk. The three of them were bundled up against the cold, but looked like they were having fun. They spread out across the sidewalk and a demanded a password to cross, giggling. Megan guessed Cat (or Kat, they said it began with K) and I guessed people for mine, and they allowed us to pass. One little girl said that she could read the sign on the side of the truck parked across the road, and read it for me.

Impulsively, I asked them if they liked to read. Her dark face lit up with a wide grin and nodded. I pulled one of the books out of my bag, The Sorcerer's Stone and handed it to them, asking if they wanted it. They took it out of my hand and look even more excited, and ran inside. I overheard the brother tell his mother that a 'nice man gave us Harry Potter!' as we walked by their apartment's door. I hope that the mother's reaction wasn't that her children had just been given a book by a stranger, and throw it away or forbid them to read it, but accept it in the spirit that it was given: impulsively, with the intention that they will read a fun children's story, one that I greatly enjoyed as a youngster. Their excitement was tangible, and he way that their faces lit up gives me some hope that the book will be enjoyed (maybe in a couple of years, or hours).

Books, I think, should be given out more freely, and their use encouraged in the instances when that's not possible. It's certainly something that I'd like to do more, and I wonder if i should start picking up books that would appeal to children and find some way to distribute them to those in need. Reading is important, essential, and some of the stories that I've heard from family members and significant others about the abilities of children in the school systems, I'm worried about some of them. Hopefully, I've inspired a couple of kids that reading can be, well, magical, interesting, and exciting.


Back in December, I received a digital copy of Byron Clark's journal - a goldmine of information on my subject - dates, thoughts, and details that I didn't really have a good grasp on before. There are 659 high quality images that makes up the entire journal, with a number of images, hand-written notes and news paper articles. Currently, I'm transcribing the entire thing. I'm finding that it's the best way for me to understand the sequence of events that occurred at camp, and what Clark was thinking. So far, I've transcribed about nineteen pages of handwritten text, from the beginning of the first camping session to just after. It's absolutely astounding to what information is in those pages, about that first camping session, about the foundation upon which a lot of my life has essentially been based on. There's a bunch of things that I knew about, but mostly just general things. Here was specific, day by day information about the first camping session, with some things that really stood out. For example, I was unaware that the frist campers started a secret society, and that five of the campers were kicked out towards the end for stealing 30 bananas. I think that I'd be able to finish my paper without this, but it would be severely diminished. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a digital copy of this, which brings me to my next point - digital copies of physical documents is going to be an essential tool for researchers as technology and access developes further. Currently, the main problem with this is the sheer volume of materials that do not exist as a digital copy. Currently, according to an article in Seven Days, there's efforts underway for high resolution scans for some of the state's older documents, like the State Constitution. A couple months ago, I tried looking into getting mission reports for various Infantry and Armored divisions for D-Day to work on my Normandy paper a bit more, to no avail - according to the man I spoke with, there are just too many mission reports and files in hard copy, that the process will take years, if not decades of dedicated work. Another person I spoke with about military files stated that an entire repository was destroyed by fire a couple years ago - raw information that is lost forever. The advantages of digital scanning and replication are clear - it allows, first and foremost, a backup copy, something that really hasn't been available to historians before. Originals of documents, barring extraordinary cases, don't last the long, and are susceptible to changes in heat, temperature, humidity and human interactions. A digital copy would practically eliminate that, provided that a secure digital filing system can be perfected. (From what I have read and understand, there's no sure way to store digital information, something that, interestingly, the film industry is currently up against when storing film data files.) Additionally, digital copies make distribution of documents and files much, much easier, either via online databases such as JStor or similar sites, or on a user to user basis. There's an entire industry here, as these sites aren't free, and are generally used by universities and institutions. The main downside is probably going to be an ongoing argument regarding the nature of information and its distribution via the internet. Should information be completely free? And if historical documents are brought to the digital world, who will control it? The company or institution that does the scanning and storing? I can see this opening up some problems for researchers. What is to prevent institutions from selectively releasing information to researchers to alter histories? While the government has laws that allow for transparency (which should help military historians), I'm not aware of any such laws that could operate with the private sector. That being said, digital copies would also make historian's lives easier, because it really doesn't help when you need physical copies, and they're 7-10 hours away by car.