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 18, 2001 - Martin Luther King Jr.
It's time for me to upgrade my home encyclopedia. I have an old set of World Books, copyright 1981.
Many people don't realize that encyclopedia content changes fairly slowly -- probably an average of between 2-6% per edition. And even with those changes over time, a solid core of content remains.
This underscores a subtle point: yes, information changes rapidly in the world today, but most of it is, frankly, irrelevant. My choice for the two kinds of reference materials books that reflect both current events and enduring content are encyclopedias and almanacs.
At any rate, I was browsing through the "K" volume of our old World Book, looking up some information on Martin Luther King, Jr. There was JFK, RFK, MLK, Jr. Those names will be there for many years to come, and the likelihood of profound changes in the historical record is small.
Many of my defining childhood moments revolve around the violent deaths of that trio. I have vivid memories of John F. Kennedy's assassination-- and the assassination of his murderer. I remember the assassination of Robert Kennedy. I remember Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination -- and that after he had been stabbed in New York City, stoned in Chicago, and had his home bombed in Montgomery, Alabama.
Incidentally, King's mother was also shot and killed, while attending church services at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
I suspect that every generation of parents looks at the world as if violence were recently invented. But violence has always been with us, following its own history of spikes and troughs. Like Columbine now, those high profile political murders had a profound impact on a nation, and on a young generation.
The remarkable thing about King, to my mind, is not just that he was the victim of murder. To this day, African Americans are still far more likely to be murdered than white people -- to our enduring national shame. The remarkable thing about King was that he fought violence with NON-violence. The source of his ideas, according to my encyclopedia, traced itself to three roots: Christianity (love thy neighbor as thyself), Henry David Thoreau ("Civil Disobedience"), and Mohandas Gandhi, whose methods freed the nation from English colonialism.
I have to admit that I haven't read much of King's works. But the Douglas Public Library District has a number of them. Among them are his own "Why We Can't Wait," "The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. (volumes 1-3)," "A Testament of Hope," "I Have a Dream: the life and words of Martin Luther King, Jr.," A Knock at Midnight: inspiration from the great sermon," and "The Martin Luther King, Jr. companion." Some of these title are for adult, some for kids. There are a couple of videos, and one audiotape.
Every day, all of us split our time between matters of transiency, and matters of enduring value. This week, in which we celebrate the life and achievement of Martin Luther King, Jr., might be a good time to ponder that split in our own lives.