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 14, 2000 - Kids and Guns
It's one of my earliest memories. I was four years old. It was a late summer afternoon, and I was playing in my front yard. By and by, I saw the paper boy approach, and waved at him.
I had always kind of admired our paper boy. His name was Robert Lindbergh. He was about 13, and he lived just down the street from me.
Now you have to understand that in those days my most prominent feature was my ears. Since then, I've grown into them, much the way a puppy grows into its paws. But back then I was often described, not kindly, as a "taxicab with both doors open."
On this particular day, Lindbergh saw me, then reached into his pocket. He pulled out a switchblade, and flicked it open. With an evil grin, he said, "I'm gonna cut your ears off!"
I don't think I wet my pants. But I do remember going rigid with terror. He strutted right in front of the house, tossed the paper onto our porch, and ... passed on. Then he stopped and looked at me again over his shoulder. "Yep. Tomorrow. I'm gonna cut your ears off."
This scene repeated itself over the course of several weeks. It gave me nightmares. Sometimes I'd hide from him. Sometimes I'd jump up and run into the house as soon as I saw him. But every time he saw me, he'd flick his switchblade and say, "I'm gonna cut your ears off."
Then, one day, I got an idea. I remembered that my father had a shotgun in his closet. So about an hour before the paper came one day, I fetched the gun, and set it alongside the porch. Then I sat there, waiting.
Finally, Lindbergh came into view. Like playing some well-rehearsed role, he snapped open the switchblade. I watched him calmly. He came just to the end of our walk and said, "I'm gonna cut your ears off."
I picked up my father's gun. I pointed it at the paper boy. "I'm gonna shoot your head off," I said.
Lindbergh turned white. He dropped his papers. After a moment of agonizing indecision, he turned and ran.
I sat there on the porch for about half an hour, just me and the gun and the scattered pile of papers. Then I put my dad's gun back in the closet.
Not long after that, my father abruptly came home early from work and consulted my mother. He went into his room, came out with the gun, and left again.
Later that night, my mother asked me if I had pointed a gun at the Lindbergh boy. I said I had."Why?" she asked. "Because he said he was going to cut my ears off with a knife."
Well, I never saw that gun again. I never saw Lindbergh's switchblade again, either. He was still our paper boy, but he wouldn't talk to me anymore.
Incidentally, I believe he grew up to be a nice guy. Like another Lindbergh, he took up flying. I seem to recall that he was one of the youngest people ever to get a license to fly a plane. Fifteen, I think.
I think I grew up OK, too.
There are lots of things I wonder about now. Why didn't I ever tell my parents that I was being terrorized? For that matter, how was a four year old able to sit on the porch for an hour and a half, with a shotgun, and nobody noticed?
I don't remember. Lindbergh was just one of the many incomprehensible monsters of childhood. To the grown-ups, I'm sure I was just playing in the front yard, in what they truly believed to be a perfectly safe neighborhood. My parents weren't neglectful, they were just busy with their own stuff.
Why did I think of the gun in the first place? I suspect I got the idea from Westerns. Pretty much every night, on our little black and white TV, we watched Gunsmoke, or Gunslinger, or The Rebel, or Bonanza, or Have Gun Will Travel, or the Lone Ranger, or Roy Rogers. I had a pair of cowboy boots, some toy guns, and a cowboy hat. The good guys, when times got tough, took action. Superior firepower seemed to help.
Was the gun loaded? I don't know. I don't think so. My dad used to hunt, and was pretty careful about things like that.
What does all this have to do with librarianship? Well, some 42 years later, I find that I am again noticing a connection between kids and guns and newspapers and graphic media. One of the tasks of libraries is to connect people with relevant information about topics of interest. Through professional channels, I recently came across the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse's "Kids and Guns" report, available online at http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/pubs/violvict.html#178994, a website of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The site contains a wealth of data.
A press release about this report notes that "While other types of homicides have remained constant, the number of juveniles killed with a firearm increased greatly between 1987 and 1993."
When it comes to facts like these, I'm all ears.