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.
June 3, 1998 - Tearing Up Daddy's Roommate
Back in June of 1995, I described what struck me as an extraordinary situation.
One of our very own patrons walked into the Bemis Public Library to use the copy machine. Dissatisfied with the quality of the copy, he abruptly shattered the top glass plate of the machine with his walking stick. Then, with a grunt of satisfaction, he headed for the door.
When confronted by staff, the man protested, "But I'm a taxpayer! I own that machine!" Leaving aside the fact that this taxpayer lived in Douglas County, not the City of Littleton, the library director opined that being a taxpayer didn't give someone the right, for instance, to borrow a police car for a spin. (Although, as it happens, the man in question did get to ride in a police car that day.)
Alas. I have a couple of more current examples of a similarly outrageous view of public property.
At our Highlands Ranch Library, two children's books -- Daddy's Roommate, and Daddy's Wedding -- were ripped apart, page by page, into thirds. The first book deals with a young boy whose father divorces his mother, then moves in with a gay lover. In the second book, the gay couple gets married.
I've gotten several complaints about the books in recent years. Usually, the concern is that the patron is personally opposed to any positive portrayal of homosexuality, and that the library shouldn't be promoting such things.
My response is threefold.
1) We bought the book at the direct request of a Douglas County resident, whose husband had left her for another man. She was trying to explain the situation to her son. She said the book helped.
2) We have many books about homosexuality. Some of these books portray gay people as people who happen to have sexual feelings for members of their own gender. Some of the books portray gays as immoral sexual predators. Some portray homosexuality as the key civil rights issue of our time. Others portray the "gay agenda" as evidence of the unraveling of our national fabric.
While I certainly have my own opinion on the matter, the library itself attempts to take an even-handed approach. We buy books representing various viewpoints, mostly from the mainstream publishing houses. It's a controversial topic, which means that a lot of books get published on it. We don't endorse or promote the perspectives expressed by various authors. We just present them for public examination.
3) Underlying this whole discussion is the idea of "freedom of speech." It is based on a fairly elementary notion: "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."
To put it another way, if somebody punches you in the nose or smashes your car with a sledgehammer, you have suffered real, demonstrable damage. In a civilized society, initiating violence against person or property is against the law.
But if people just say (or write) something about a topic not directly related to you, then they're just voicing their opinions. You're free to argue against it, agree wholeheartedly, or keep quiet. The only time speech is held to ìhurtî you is when the remarks are libelous -- a legal term fairly strictly defined.
You do not, however, have the right to expect that no one will ever voice an opinion that you don't agree with.
My point is that Daddy's Roommate and Daddy's Wedding are just a couple of books that express an opinion, albeit an unpopular one in some quarters. In America, at least this week, that's still legal. Ripping a book apart is an action: destruction of property. That's still a crime.
I'm guessing that whoever destroyed these books has the same wrong-headed notion about public property as the guy who smashed the copy machine. Public property doesn't belong to you, just a share of it does. But you should treat public property as you would like other people to treat your own: with care and (lest it die out altogether) with civility.
Meanwhile, the library will do what it always does when people start stealing or destroying our books in a protest against the message they express. We will buy additional copies.