Monday, May 24, 2010

Rebuilding a Library

Two summers ago our downtown completely flooded. It was on the news all over the world. I got emails from France. It was a surreal week. The most memorable part was putting all our furniture up on conference tables and packing essentials for a stay at a friend's house. Just as we were locking up the Iowa National Guard pulled up in a Humvee and told us to get out. We were spared, but our public library wasn't. The entire adult collection was lost (the kid's books were on a second story).

I felt like I had lost personal property. See, I spent years reading all the woodworking books at our library, so I felt like they belonged to me in a way. Not as a personal possession, but more like a connection that one feels with a favorite teacher. My woodworking teacher, I'll call him Mr. Taunton, was gone. I had cut my woodworking teeth on old back issues of Fine Woodworking, hardbound in 9 volumes and dubbed the "Techniques" series. I couldn't check those out again. They were covered in muddy foetid sludge, mildew ridden, soggy. They were literally garbage.

As our city plans to rebuild and replenish the Library, I felt a bit information-starved, even though I don't check books out too often anymore. Don't get me wrong, the Internet can be a wonderful place for information, but wading through the muck and sludge to get to good information can sometimes take a lot out of a person. Much like trudging through a flooded library in search of a spared volume. After helping some friends clean up after the flood, I can say that its not much fun.

So it was with particular interest one day earlier this spring that I found a local Craig's List ad for a complete set of Fine Woodworking back issues, all the way through to April 2010. The owner said he was only missing perhaps 10 issues. Asking price? $100.

I jumped on the phone. And here's how the conversation went:



"Good morning, I saw your ad on Craig's List and was wondering if you still have the magazines"
(it was about 4pm, so I figured someone had already snagged them)

"Well, I just placed the ad this morning, you're the first person to call"

"Oh, really? Great! Where can I see them?"

"I'm cleaning out some old things in my office right now and have the magazines out, stop by now if you'd like"

"Okay, I just off work, I'll head over now. What's the address?"
(at this point I could have sworn I recognized the man's voice)

--He gives me the address--

"Say, what's your name?"




"Jim! It's Jameel."

And we both had a good laugh. It turns out that Jim mows the neighbor's lawn and Jim has snuck a peek into my shop over the years. Finally, last year he stopped by with one of these:

It's a Shepherd smoothing plane kit that Jim had built at a Galootapalooza event a few years ago. We had a fun afternoon talking tools and getting the kit finished. Jim had never prepared the iron.

So I headed over to Jim's straightway and picked up the magazines. And here's the touching part. Jim has subscribed to Fine Woodworking since issue 1. So I feel especially honored to be "inheriting" this collection from Jim.

So until our library gets rebuilt (they have already begun), my own personal library will be more than adequate to suffice.

Oh, one more bonus came with Jim's collection. Several years of American Woodworker (the good ones when Ellis Walentine, Andy Rae, Ian Kirby and others were in charge) and several recent years (and a few older ones--anybody need plans for an "Alien On A Swing"?)of Popular Woodworking magazine, which is now chock full of great content (my back issues are stacked right alongside my FWW issues). Some may lament the recent loss of Popular Woodworking's ad-free spin-off Woodworking Magazine, but when there are no ads, you miss out on great content like this way back from the pre-Internet days: