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 7, 2000 - The Fourth Turning
One of the most interesting things about my job is the opportunity to observe the interests of a rapidly growing group of people -- the library patrons of Douglas County.
Another interesting thing is the opportunity to poke through our rapidly growing collection. Two of the books on tape I've recently listened to have given me some new ways of looking at our community's behavior.
The first book is "The Fourth Turning," by Strauss and Howe. The authors of a previous book called "Generations," Strauss and Howe have done something unusual: based on their reading of historical patterns, they make some sweeping predictions about America's near future, through about 2020.
Their theory is that there are just four basic generational types. These types follow each other in strict sequence. They can also be described archetypically: the Nomad, the Hero, the Artist, and the Prophet.
To roll this back a cycle: the Nomads were the Lost Generation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's time, the Heroes were the GI Generation, the Artists (or the Silent Generation) were the children born and raised during the second World War, and the Prophets were the Baby Boom generation. The next Nomads the press labels Generation X. Among us now is a new Hero generation, the Millennials.
Added to the mix is the fact that there are four basic phases of life: childhood, young adulthood, mid-life, and elder. Every time the generational cycle rotates through these life phases, you get a "turning."
Strauss and Howe call our current time an "unraveling." We have the process-sensitive Silent Generation moving into elderhood, the self-absorbed and moralistic Boomers in mid-life, the survivalist Gen X'ers in young adulthood, and the good scout Millennials in childhood. Despite the fact that crime is falling, the economy good, and children fairly well protected (relative to the upbringing of the Gen X'ers, for instance), there's a general sense that our public institutions are not well respected. Public debate is mean-spirited and fractious.
Most of our institutions, public and private, never really recovered from the 60's and 70's. It's all about niche marketing, now.
But come the next turning, we will find ourselves in the same generational line-up that preceded the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. The combination of generational predilections is mobilized for Great Deeds: take-no-prisoners elders, can-do mid-life leaders, competent and highly cooperative young adults, and a new generation, yet unnamed, of children expected to stay out of harm's way. And with that turning, we'll find our nation once again seeking, and finding, common ground, common purpose.
This isn't all good news. Strauss and Howe predict the Crisis no sooner than 2005, no later than 2020. If it's war, my son may be a soldier, something no parent can contemplate without anxiety.
Yet I see some distinct changes in Douglas County. In our libraries, I see much evidence of increasing community cohesion. Our writers are finding each other. Our readers are forming book discussion groups. There is a surge of youth groups pursuing highly organized activities, with dedicated adults. We are moving away from exclusively individual, and sometimes contrary, pursuits and toward rich group interaction to accomplish shared purposes. People want to build something together.
I think Strauss and Howe are right.
The second book I listened to recently was Viktor E. Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning." Frankl was a concentration camp survivor. He survived, in fact, four concentration camps. The odds of such a thing were 1 in 28. Frankl endured through starvation, appalling sanitary conditions, rampant disease, extremes of weather and labor, and torture.
His book describes the psychological stages of the concentration camp victim. From his experiences, and those of others, Frankl put together the third school of Viennese psychiatry: logotherapy. Ultimately, Frankl's theory is that people survive and thrive if they find meaning in their lives.
Even in the worst circumstances, and it doesn't get any worse than a concentration camp, human beings can live rich and meaningful lives. And even in cushy circumstances, some human beings despair. The difference between people, then, is not outward conditions. It is meaning.
In the same growing community I mentioned above -- of people coming together to discuss things of substance, to take the first, tentative steps to rebuilding institutions to serve important social purposes -- I see what may be a profound challenge to our times.
Right now, Americans are first and foremost consumers, judged and judging others on the basis of possessions, including the stock portfolios that enable such obsession. Do we have values? Sure. Property values.
Come the fourth turning, we may need something deeper than that.