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.
July 14, 1999 - Kid's Rights
I'm still haunted by a cartoon I saw some 30 years ago. A clean- cut man in a business suit stands next to his wife. She's pushing a baby carriage and holding the hand of a little boy. They're all peering into a jail cell.
The man says, "It's looks so nice and safe in there."
I'm also haunted by something else. According to the most current report of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (based on 1996 data):
- Almost 1 million children were the victims of substantiated or indicated child abuse and neglect in 1996. That's about an 18 percent increase since 1990. (The incidence of most crimes has fallen since 1990.)
- Nationally, there were 15 victims of child abuse and neglect per 1,000 children in the population.
-An estimated 1,077 "child maltreatment fatalities" occurred in the 50 States and the District of Columbia in 1996. (You have to admire the bureaucratic circumlocution here. In plain language, this means that in 1996 alone, over 1,000 children DIED at the hands of their "guardians.")
Moreover, according to the national Child Rights Alliance, ten to thirteen children are stabbed, raped, beaten or burned to death by their parents or caretakers every single day in the United States.
Meanwhile, the press is filled with reports about how we're cracking down on minors. In Tennessee these days, you'll be relieved to know that no minor can get a tattoo unless accompanied by a parent. We're on our way to hanging the Ten Commandments in our schools. (Remember: "Honor thy father and thy mother?" Nothing about honoring thy children.)
There's talk about teenage curfews (let's get them off the streets and into their homes). There's a national push for school uniforms at least through elementary school. There's a tough new initiative by movie theaters to restrict children from buying tickets for R- rated movies. (Not from seeing them -- impossible to check ID's outside every door in the multiplex.) There's a national push to force libraries to use "child-friendly" Internet filters on Internet terminals, brushing aside the awkward truth that they are utterly ineffective.
Some well-intentioned souls are convinced that the answer to youth violence is simple: structured and supervised activities all the live long day. From sun-up to sun-down, let's get our children corralled into church groups, school groups, sport groups, and any other sort of group under the watchful eye of adults. (The adults can all be trusted. Right?) Plus, there's the opportunity for more uniforms.
And a recent poll shows that the American public is more than willing to rein in the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, in particular Freedom of Speech and the Right to Bear Arms. There are no specifically identified minors' rights in the Constitution, an omission that makes it far simpler to pass such urgent laws as the "parental consent to tattoos" legislation mentioned above.
Am I alone in thinking that this is all appalling? Columbine notwithstanding, by a clear and overwhelming margin, children are the victims of crimes, not the perpetrators. Yet suddenly adults seem bent on children's virtual imprisonment, or at least their military internment.
Last week I wrote about our summer reading program. Since then, I've realized all over again just how important the library was to me when I was growing up. It is, on occasion, absolutely vital that a child have a place to go where he (or she) can just sit and read, where the role of grown-ups is restricted to answering his or her questions -- any questions -- with thoughtfulness and courtesy.
The ways things are going, there won't be many places left where a child has the simple right to be left alone.