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 29, 1997 - Oprah Winfrey
Let me say at the outset that I have never watched Oprah Winfrey. There's no particular reason; I've never watched any of the daytime talk shows.
But suddenly Oprah Winfrey is making big waves in the world of libraries.
It seems that Ms. Winfrey, an astute and avid reader, has launched a once-a-month "Oprah's Book Club." The results are astonishing.
Her most recent show aired on Wednesday, January 22. The book she discussed was "She's Come Undone," by Wally Lamb, originally published back in 1992. I understand that the show concluded at 5 p.m.
Fifteen minutes later, Douglas County patrons had placed 23 holds on the two copies owned by the library. As I write this (January 26), there are 51 holds on the two copies.
It is the library's policy to purchase one copy of a title for every four requests. The idea here is to try to keep the waiting time for a hot title reasonably short.
Unfortunately, "She's Come Undone" is out of print. That means that the library can't pick up any more copies.
On the other hand, that might change. Oprah is having a big effect on the lives of authors, the fortunes of publishers, and the availability of good books.
For instance, consider Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon," published in 1977. In 1993 it won the Nobel prize. The same year, sales reached 98,500. In the book business, that's a big success.
But after it was featured on Oprah's Book Club, the publisher of the book printed another 730,000 copies; Everyman Library (another publisher) is getting another 50,000 copies of a reprint ready. Almost overnight, Morrison's book joined the ranks of the latest titles by Stephen King, Danielle Steel, and Scott Turow.
Jane Hamilton's debut novel, "The Book of Ruth," was published in 1988. It sold about 8,000 copies. Then Oprah put it on her show. Immediately, Doubleday rushed half-a-million copies to the bookstores. Houghton Mifflin is publishing an extra 50,000 in hardcover.
I should say, too, that Oprah also teamed up with the American Library Association to distribute another 10,000 copies to America's schools and libraries. Librarians notice things like that.
People in both the TV and the publishing business seem taken aback by the phenomenon of Oprah's Book Club. Publishing consultant Robert Riger said, "No one has ever had this kind of impact on books. The only comparable thing I can think of is when Mao Zedong would say, 'Let's go out and do X, Y and Z,' and all of China would do it. This is another cultural revolution."
Washington Post editor David Streitfeld remarked that the surge to America's bookstores and libraries suggests that "it's possible the widely reported death of reading was due simply to poor marketing."
As you might expect, publishers are flooding Oprah's office with books. Thus far, to her credit, she's completely ignoring them. Oprah picks what Oprah wants.
But what DOES she want? In a Time interview, she said, "I choose these books because they are readable, poignant, thought-provoking. Our audience is predominantly female; all three books I've picked are strong stories with strong women."
Speaking of strong women, it's clear Oprah Winfrey is now one of our country's most powerful forces in the arenas of book publishing and library purchasing.
How does that sit with me? If more people will be reading good books, then Oprah just got herself a new fan.
(But do be patient with us as we scramble for extra copies, OK?)