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.
December 4, 1996 - Sickbed/Bedside Library
One of life's great mysteries is how fascinating it is to talk about your own illnesses -- but how boring it is to listen to anybody else's.
So rather than regale you with the heroic saga of my week-long battle with vertigo (my third bout in six years, as it happens), followed and compounded by the flu, I'll get right to the point: when you can't get out of bed, it's important to have a whole bunch of your favorite books immediately at hand.
By "favorite" I do NOT mean "all of the books you've ever owned." One of the greatest contributions of the public library, in my opinion, is that it keeps so many of those books, in reasonably good order, somewhere other than your own house.
I'm talking about the core group of books that I need to read every year. Here's a look at the current contents of my overstuffed bedside bookcase.
I keep a few non-fiction titles: Zinsser's "On Writing Well," Strunk and White's "Elements of Style," and about six translations of the Tao te Ching. A fairly recent non-fiction addition to my bookcase is a book called "Generations," written by William Strauss and Neil Howe, published in 1992. It's a history of the United States told through a series of generational biographies -- and one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read. I just finished it for the second time, and strongly recommend it for those (like me) who came to history relatively late in life, and hadn't understood its power to illuminate the present.
But mainly, I keep a lot of science fiction around: all the works of Robert A. Heinlein, a good collection of Orson Scott Card, and most of the early works of a contemporary black writer, Octavia Butler.
While going through Butler's works this time, I suddenly remembered one of her books that I'd read, but never owned. When I finally got back on my feet again, I went out and bought it.
It's called "Kindred," and it should be recommended reading for every high school student, or indeed anyone interested in the role of race in American society. The general plot of the book is this: Dana, a 26 year old black woman, has just moved into a new house in California with her white husband. Suddenly, she is pulled away, is pulled, in fact, back in time, where she saves a young white boy from drowning. It takes a while, and a few uncontrollable yanks back and forth across more than a century, before she realizes that she has been trapped in the antebellum South. Here her job is to save the life -- several times! -- of a white slaveholder who will father the woman from whom Dana is herself descended.
But the science fiction elements aren't the focus of the story. "Kindred" is a "slave narrative," part of a genre of writing that told, from the inside, just what the early days of American slavery were like. It's a book that will leave you haunted -- but wiser, I think.
A lot of things that wind up in my bookcase are things that I mean to get to eventually. For instance, there was a Spring, 1993, Wilson Quarterly article about China, written by Anne Thurston. Thurston is also the author of a book called "Enemies of the People," which described the disastrous consequences of Mao Zedong's 1966 "cultural revolution." In the Wilson Quarterly, she wrote, "My formative intellectual experience was as a student of the Cultural Revolution, and the deepest conviction that such research instilled was a belief in the fragility of civilized behavior, a humbling recognition ... of how easily human beings, seemingly no better or worse than you or me, succumb to barbarous behavior."
So after a week in bed, I'm feeling well enough to go back to work. But I'm also in a thoughtful mood: like the flu, some kinds of social illness break out pretty regularly in the human story, and it's not at all clear when we'll get better.