For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
February 14, 2008 - Easier to maintain health than to lose and regain it
My wife does something that's very smart. When she starts to feel sick, she takes an herbal concoction designed to boost her immune system. As a result, she rarely GETS sick. She just starts to, then gets better.
I have a different approach. It might be a function of my gender. I deny that I am getting sick, until eventually I'm so ill that I can't get out of bed.
That's usually when I finally condescend to drink the herbal concoction -- at which point, of course, it does me no good at all. It's too little, too late.
Lesson: It is easier to maintain health than to lose and regain it.
This is true for institutions, too. It is better to be alert to the equivalent of sniffles than to wait for the unmistakable symptoms of crisis.
I'll be honest. Last year, Douglas County Libraries had sniffles -- the foreseeable need for more space. The preventive medicine was, I thought, relatively painless -- a modest tax increase that would have kept up with growth, with a minimum of disruption. However, the campaign failed to summon enough supporters to the polls. Reality is what it is.
Now, I fear that the institution I serve will endure more decline, more sickness, and its recovery will be correspondingly more painful and expensive.
That depressed me. So to cheer myself up, I decided to invite our staff to schedule a series of private interviews with me. It was time to touch base with our people.
I asked everybody three questions. Why did they want to work here? What did they think we should be working on over the next couple of years?
Finally, I wanted to know what THEY wanted to be doing in 3 to 5 years.
And cheer me up it did. Working for the library are the smartest, most interesting people I've ever met.
We have former ministers, geologists, professional dancers, and
teachers. We have people passionate about civic dialog, people eager to reach out to seniors, teens, and toddlers.
They are convinced that we can make our communities more interesting, more challenging, and richer in every respect.
And I believe them. Why not? They do it every day.
I was also delighted to discover a new generation of folks pursuing a career in librarianship.
They came to us, I hope you'll be as pleased to learn as I was, because we have a reputation for innovation.
We've earned it. Our staff has, and puts into practice, more good ideas in a week than some libraries come up with in a decade.
Some of our staff are pursuing traditional Master's programs in
librarianship. Others are attending online programs. Some staff are
receiving financial assistance from us for their schooling. Some aren't -- but should be.
All of them are eager to do something to improve the lives of the people in their communities. They want to be well paid, by the way.
They believe that a library career shouldn't have to be a supplementary contribution to a family income, just because so many librarians are women. They are skilled professionals, brimming with entrepreneurial energy. They think their job merits a primary income.
One young woman looked me in the eye and said she wanted MY job!
We both laughed, but I was very pleased.
I am now old enough to understand that few things can be guaranteed for the future. The only real, true pleasure of the administrative life is this: you get to see people grow.
I am thrilled to learn that there is a whole cohort of staff who care deeply about their work, believe in its importance and significance, and would be only too eager to shoulder me aside to get to the work sooner.
That's an attitude I completely approve of.
And it gives me hope. The last generation of voters denied the early
illness of their library. The next generation might want to hang onto its health.