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The Carnegie Library and the MediCap Pharmacy

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April 12, 2022

When I was 15, I had access to a Carnegie library. I was always fascinated by the discovery that happened during the journey through each of the aisles of books. From DaVinci’s notebooks through the novels of Virginia Wolfe, the ideas within the well-worn pages and tattered covers seemed at the time to be endless. I spent Sunday afternoons alternating between homework and wandering through the stacks of books — times I remember fondly as an adult.

Those who know me know that I do not use social media actively. I describe my social media presence as “my vacation home that I visit twice a year to make sure it hasn’t been vandalized or burned to the ground.” I don’t mean this in any pejorative way — I am just saying that I don’t utilize it. The internet itself creates shortcuts to information that are both good and bad. For example, it is a lot easier to find information on an obscure Japanese import of a Duran Duran single from 1988 on Amazon than from a giant paper catalog published once a year.

But that almost feels too easy — like I’m not having to take the twists and turns that I need to in order to find something in a more challenging way. Before the internet, I would have likely gone to a local record shop with a catalog and asked the proprietor to order the album in question from their distributor. I’ve done this many times. It was sort of exciting to find the title in the thick annual mentioned above, copy down the numbers on a slip of paper and hand it to the guy who owns the shop who likely didn’t know the exact record I wanted, but knew a lot about bands, or something related, that led us to talk more, got me back into the pages of the catalog and maybe found a few more records that I didn’t even contemplate buying on my initial trip.

Considering the Journey

Thinking back to those afternoons in the library, I think about all the things I didn’t mean to learn. A friend of mine and I used to play a game in the iTunes music store that started on some little-known metal band and a set destination for our wandering as something almost completely the opposite in style and composition. A musical or piece of classical music, for example. The only thing we could use to browse from start to finish were other related albums under the heading “you might also like”. We had to rely on what we knew or had learned to get from point “a” to point “b” to try to get there in the fewest steps possible.

If I had not spent the time in the library and developed that sort of systems design thinking, I feel like I would have missed an opportunity to develop a specific methodology of building associations and the value of “accidental” learning. Social media sometimes eliminates this as an option for “intellectual calisthenics” and forces you out of the rigor that it takes to develop a more robust systems-based process of discovery.

The Carnegie Library was torn down in favor of a now-shuttered MediCap pharmacy. The building is gone, but the symbolism hits home for me whenever I drive by. Sometimes convenience acts counter to a better, more vetted and tested, solid solution. Sometimes the shortest path is the least desirable. Sure, you may get there first, but what more was there to consider in the journey?

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Joseph R. Benesh

Joe Benesh is the president and CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, organizational development and design thinking firm based in Des Moines. He can be reached at joe@ingenuitycompany.com and (305) 450-9120.