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 15, 1997 - Dad's Death
I have always been a reader, and have always hung around libraries. As a child, I mostly read science books. As a young adult, I mostly read fiction and science fiction. The progression was from fact to speculation, to the collection of human stories and the probing of the possible.
But sometimes the most touching stories come from real life.
For instance, I've just returned from my father's funeral. He died on October 3. On the 11th of this month, he would have been 73.
It happens that although I predicted the day and almost the hour of my father's death, I wasn't there. My brother and two sisters were. Throughout that whole day, my father was in very good spirits, smiling, and at one point, laughing.
"What's so funny?" my sister asked.
"I just saw Jimmy Stewart at the foot of my bed," he said.
When he died, later that day, it was very easy, very peaceful.
I had gathered up my wife and children and started driving east about half an hour before. When we stopped in Omaha, Nebraska that night, the message light in our hotel room was on. The front desk didn't know anything about it.
It pleases me to think that Jimmy Stewart was my father's escort, and that dad did stop long enough to leave me a message.
Here's another story from the funeral.
My father had an aunt who was just a couple of years older than he was. Her name was "Peg." By all accounts, Peg had been a very mean and selfish person. By the time of her marriage, she was almost shrewish. But then something unexpected happened. She had a son with Down's Syndrome, meaning that he was born "disabled." That son, Tom, changed her life.
The night before my father's wake, Aunt Peg (now one of the most loving people I know) told me that it was still hard, sometimes, waking up cranky when your son just wouldn't let you be sad. Tom was happy, every day. He set a high standard.
Tom was also one of the pall-bearers. He made a point, twice on that horrible day, of coming up to me, looking me strong in the eye, and giving me some powerful hugs. Tom, my first cousin once removed, is 45 years old, two years older than I am.
Later that day, I made some comment about "the kids" -- meaning my siblings and me, my whole generation. Tom sat up straight and looked at me. "Not a kid!" he said. "I'm a MAN."
And Tom told me about how hard he worked at a mail room in Jefferson City, Missouri. He told me with some pride about how he was about to move into his own house, and how he planned to cook for himself. And Tom began to impress me more and more as one of the wisest people present, maybe one of the wisest people I've ever met. Tom knew that it sometimes takes the funeral of your last parent to tell you: you're not a kid anymore.
There are people who don't use libraries who nonetheless are pretty good at reading the human soul. There is a kind of human intelligence that doesn't show up on the I.Q. tests.
And most important of all, whether it's a book, a movie star, a father, or a first cousin once removed, sometimes these stories effect extraordinary transformations in our lives, opening our eyes if only for a moment to the height and depth of human possibility.