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.
October 1, 1997 - Shell Shock
Down the street from where I grew up lived Mr. Ingvoldstadt. His son, Roy, was in my class at the nearby elementary school. Roy was very bright, particularly at math. We've all had those moments of "I get it!" With Roy, those moments were like the flashing of a huge sword.
But Roy was also very withdrawn. It wasn't until I got to know him better that I figured out why. There was something painfully hushed at his house, as if everyone were walking on tiptoe. Roy's mother was a very well-groomed and polite woman, with eyes a little too wide, almost startled. When I caught a glimpse of Roy's father, he was usually wearing a suit. But there seemed to be long periods when he didn't work at all. Then he haunted the house, his posture slightly curled, his hands trembling.
It turns out that Mr. Ingvoldstadt suffered from shell shock and battle fatigue. He had, like so many other men in my neighborhood, served in World War II. He had received a medical discharge some 20 years earlier. Obviously, he had never quite recovered.
For years, this image of lasting trauma stayed with me. Then, sometime near the end of high school, I read about a study someone had done on Viet Nam veterans. There was a new round of shell shocked and battle-fatigued soldiers. The study addressed the question: who was most at risk? Was it the basic recruit, the average guy? Or was it more likely to be the "sensitive" types, bright and imaginative?
I didn't have any doubt: it had to be the bright and imaginative ones. I thought of Mr. Ingvoldstadt.
But I was wrong. This study showed that while anybody could "crack" if driven by circumstance into total adrenalin exhaustion, the imaginative ones stood the best chance of survival. Why? Because when they were lying in their trenches, they were thinking of everything that could go wrong. And when something did go wrong, they were prepared for it. They acted -- when the average guys around them could only react, or crack.
This was a revelation to me. Even in high school, I was lying awake at night trying to figure out, for instance, the 99 ways a particular girl could turn me down for a date, or the worst possible consequence for my failure to get in a school assignment. And I did survive both puberty and public education.
These days, I still fret in the wee hours on occasion, worrying, for instance, about delays in the delivery of a temporary building for the Oakes Mill construction project.
But I've learned some things, too. I've learned to imagine positive turns of events, so GOOD news doesn't take me by surprise.
And I've learned that imagination and intelligence is not a curse. It's a blessing. Provided with enough material about the world of possibilities around us -- and here I'm thinking of, for example, a well-stocked library -- we can explore, and day dream, and fantasize, and anticipate all manner of potential situations. So when a crisis does come up, we don't crack. We have the resources to deal with it.
The world is a dangerous place sometimes. We've all met people who were shell shocked by some difficulty, or utterly worn out by a battle that doesn't seem to end. The world has many walking wounded.
People don't often think of the public library this way, but coupled with curiosity, it may be the best bet we have as individuals for "emergency preparedness," a way to stay sane and whole when the odds are against it.