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.
January 22, 1997 - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lately I've been reading "The Fourth Turning," by William Strauss and Neil Howe.
I've written here before about their earlier book, "Generations." "The Fourth Turning" hits most of the same themes: four basic generational types cycle through an arc of institution-building, followed by a profound challenge to cultural values, followed by an eventual renewal of those institutions based on new values.
According to Strauss and Howe, America is now in a period of cultural "unraveling." There is in fact much good news to be found: violent crime is decreasing, the divorce rate is declining, the rate of abortions is down, substance abuse is dropping, academic scores are rising.
But to hear the politicians and pundits talk, we are nonetheless a culture in crisis. The sense of community, of common cause, seems ever farther away.
Meanwhile there are other trends: increasing political isolationism, a tightening on immigration, some disturbing reminders -- such as the upheavals in Miami in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1992 -- of the potential for widespread racial violence.
Ironically, when last America did seem united -- the unparalleled days of economic growth following our World War II triumph -- there was a different complaint. It was the era of "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," of soul-less conformity to a culture many found suffocating and sterile.
And of course, there was a profound racism of a different sort than today's.
In the midst of what Strauss and Howe call the "Consciousness Revolution" of the 1960ís, came Martin Luther King, Jr. A thoughtful student of Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi's "civil disobedience," he succeeded in effectively dramatizing the second-class status of African-Americans. Through peaceful "sit-ins," highly publicized group walks, and his own remarkable eloquence, he held a mirror to the face of white America.
In the evening news, white Americans saw black Americans sprayed with fire hoses and beaten by police -- non-violence met with the most brutal physical retaliation. The powerful idea of principled, non-violent resistance seared the national consciousness, kicking off a wave of attempts to make real what King spoke about at Civil rights march on Washington. He said, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed that 'We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.'"
King was the first black man to be chosen by Time magazine as "Man of the Year." Later that same year (1964), he became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Four years later, he was assassinated. In 1983, his birthday was declared a federal holiday.
This past weekend, a local Bahai group (themselves frequent targets of prejudice and violence around the world) teamed up with local citizens, the Douglas County School District's Multicultural Alliance, the Douglas Public Library District, and others, to honor Dr. King with a Unity Walk in Highlands Ranch.
Perhaps, in this time of our cultural "unraveling," it's worthwhile to remember that there is always a time for people who are out-of-step with their culture. From their persistence may yet come a whole American tapestry.