How Washington DC shapes us all: in honor of Art Emerson
Many of us who are drawn to U.S. federal publications end up traveling to our Nation's capitol fairly regularly, if we don't live there already. Over time, we develop constellations of memories about "the first time I did" this or that in Washington DC. We attend GPO-sponsored events like the formative Interagency Depository Seminar (alumna, class of 1993) or the Depository Library Conference & Council meetings; we tour famous sites and museums; we recall our first time on the Mall, seeing cherry blossoms, and riding the Metro. Special people in our lives are willing to show us "their" Washington DC, and their perspectives further enrich our understanding of all the secrets within the Beltway.
There are also special Washington DC people we visit -- our family or friends -- who are completely outside the govdocs realm. For fifteen years, I've had a standing date (always dinner and a walk) with a reference librarian from the Library of Congress, Art Emerson. Art served as the Library of Congress subject expert for Australia and New Zealand. He was a contemporary of mine from the University of Michigan School of Information and Library Studies (its old name). Art and I would look forward to our annual time together: what new memorial would we see? What museum just opened? What ethnic restaurant was fabulous and as yet undiscovered by the hordes? I'll never forget the night he took this small town girl on a no-holds-barred tour of the Metro's steepest escalators, because he knew what fear and excitement these inspired in me. He took special pride in my teary-eyed first glimpse of the LC Main Reading Room and the restored Jefferson Building. When he visited the Northwest this past year, we took him to see Seattle's favorite Australian import, Lauren Jackson, play a mean game of basketball.
My friends and I were shocked to learn that Art Emerson died last week. A health problem had been building, stealthily, for some time, until it finally manifested itself and ended his life. He was 51. He had spent a glorious year at the State Library of New South Wales. He helped people all over the world discover treasures of one of the greatest libraries on Earth, and a federal library at that. He was still planning his next trip to Australia, perhaps planning his next book project after his Historical Dictionary of Sydney. He had a wicked sense of humor and a mind that would be the envy of any scholar. With the serendipity that always seems to happen around a death, I turned over a scrap of paper on my guest room floor last night to find that it was a card for Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant and Mongolian Barbeque, the last restaurant I visited with Art. I'm too sad to eulogize him further right now, and FGI is not the place to do so. But I thought in Art's memory, I would ask the FGI readership: what are some of your favorite secret spots in Washington DC? What special person introduced you to these? How has Washington DC changed who you are as an information lover?