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.
January 3, 2001 - Reflections on Gil Whitman
I have to admit that I'm a city boy, raised in a mid-size Midwest place of streets, tall trees, and lots of blue collar jobs.
Most of the time, I don't think about that background. But when I get together with a bunch of Douglas County ranchers, I definitely feel citified, the sort of guy you wouldn't want with you when there was trouble on the ranch.
I'm a reasonably good librarian, but the last time I was asked to do the simple task of closing a barbed wire fence, I locked myself in the pasture. Embarrassing.
I felt that lack of background again when I attended the funeral of Gil Whitman, a man I knew and deeply respected. Many of the longtime Douglas County ranchers were there, and I cannot imagine a harder working, plainer spoken, more civic-spirited group of people anywhere.
But I came away with an insight about the non-ranching side of his life. A former County Commissioner (1972-80) -- and a Democrat at that -- Gil was the sort of man who gave politics a good name.
Some years ago, I served as an election judge with his vivacious and fascinating wife, Cecile. She regaled us for hours with stories about Douglas County's near history. I remember her saying that for awhile, I believe when Gil was Commissioner, people actually used the Whitman's barn as a voting place.
In the fractious turmoil surrounding our recent Presidential election, I find it even more amazing that nobody ever thought there was anything the least bit fishy about holding elections on the private property of a sitting Commissioner. Why not? Because it was Gil Whitman, who integrity was so obvious, so immediately apparent just by meeting the man, whose fairness was so well-known, that the question never came up.
I got to visit Gil's ranch before he moved into town. He had rescued a good many abandoned county records from the courthouse after the fire, priceless archives that have now, thanks to his action and foresight, been restored to the public record. (He also had some of the most amazing machines in his barn!) I liked him.
We need more people like Gil Whitman. We need people who are willing to give thoughtfully of their time and experience to the public institutions that help define our community. As Gil Whitman served the school board, the county, and the Douglas County Fair board, we need a new generation of residents to step forward and invest themselves in the civic infrastructure of the county. They may follow his footsteps with the school district or county. They may serve on the Library Board of Trustees. They may give their time to some of the host of advisory committees serving the county or various towns.
But on thing is certain: they'll have a tough act to follow.