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.
September 25, 1996 - Banned Books Week
When I was young -- still in fifth grade -- my local public librarian (the ever-enigmatic Mrs. Johnson) persuaded me to read Plato. Somehow, I got hooked. After many hours of reading, I remember sitting on our tiny concrete porch and thinking, "When I grow up, I want to be wise." That's what I thought Socrates was after, too.
I regret to say that over 30 years later, I'm not making much progress. (And in retrospect, I think Plato didn't do so well, either.) But I have run across a few wise people in my life.
My grandfather was one of them. "You may not have any respect FOR somebody's opinion," he said, "but you should always have respect TO it." Over the years, I'm put this in my own words -- which is how you know an idea has found a home in you -- "Everybody's entitled to his opinion. But some opinions are better than others."
I learned this lesson so early in life that it still seems obvious. You listen respectfully to people's ideas. You test them to see if there's any evidence behind them. And if there is, you change your mind.
If, on the other hand, there doesn't seem to be any supporting data for the opinion, if, in fact, the idea seems out and out loony or malicious, well, I still don't see the value in personal humiliation. If you have facts on your side, that's enough.
If you don't, all the sarcasm in the world won't make you right. And it doesn't usually change anybody else's mind, either.
I'm remembering all this because I was asked by several Arapahoe County librarians to serve as a moderator for a debate this week, which happens to be the American Library Association's "Banned Books Week." (See elsewhere in today's paper for the results of our "In Defense of Reading" contest.)
The debate, held at the Aurora Public Library, was between a representative of People for the American Way (a liberal watchdog group very concerned with First Amendment rights) and Focus on the Family (the conservative Christian organization, headquartered in Colorado Springs).
I got to write the questions. Since I subscribe to the publications of both organizations, I've got a pretty good idea of what they do. I believe they define something like the poles of public opinion on most of the essential issues in current American culture.
What were the topics? Well, I asked both of them to address the appropriate role of the public library in today's society. I asked them to talk about the rights of parents -- AND of children. I asked each of them to expand on their views about the intent of the founders of the Constitution regarding the separation of church and state. Finally, we opened everything up for questions.
How did it go? I don't know. I'm writing this column well before the debate. I have no idea how it will turn out.
But I can say this: I find it appropriate that the library should be the location of such a public event. It has always been our role to provide a forum for the expression of opinions, to gather and arrange our collective memory of the evidence. Best of all, it is our role to encourage all citizens -- regardless of their economic, political, or social status -- to examine this evidence, and to make up their own minds.
Here's hoping that during this week, you'll visit the public library and investigate some topic you've never dared to study before. It just might be the first step on the long path toward wisdom.