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.
March 15, 2001 - Research: Not Only the Product, Also the Process
My daughter, Maddy, amazes me with her time management skills. When she has an assignment - preparing for a quiz, for example - she estimates how much time she'll need to master the content. She'll divide up the time by the number of days remaining until the quiz, and use that time promptly after school each day, carefully incorporating both new and review materials.
I have no idea where she gets this from. Not from me, not from her mother.
Maddy is much the same way with research assignments. She goes to the library shortly after she picks the topic. She produces a good mix of print and electronic resources. She finishes her projects early.
I am very proud of her, of course. And I'm particularly aware of her behavior because of the time that I've spent at the reference desk. Typical scene, set at two minutes before the library closes:
STUDENT: What do you have on Desert Storm?
LIBRARIAN: Is this for a school assignment?
LIBRARIAN: When is it due?
STUDENT (squirming): Tomorrow.
Our purpose in such questions, incidentally, isn't to humiliate the student. Much the same thing happens in our interviews with business people. It's helpful for us to know more or less where the question comes from (which often dictates some of the probable sources), and how much time we've got to dig up something.
I've grown philosophical about these late shows over the years. In the case of students, I think, "At least they came to the library." But there's another scene that gets to me:
MOTHER OF STUDENT: Johnny needs information on Desert Storm. Isn't that right, Johnny?
LIBRARIAN (who has just talked to 12 other students working on the topic): Is this for the middle school assignment due tomorrow?
MOTHER OF STUDENT: Is it due tomorrow, Johnny?
And so we wind up running a sort of translated or interpreted interview through the parent of the child. Now, on the one hand, I recognize that this may well be a case of the mother finding out, the night before an assignment is due, that her child has some research to do. So she grabs the kid and hauls him down to the library. There, often in the interests of time (and if there is anybody with too little time in America, it's moms), she tries to manage the whole research process. Her reasons are simple and admirable: she wants her child to do well, and she wants to get on to the next demand on her time.
I understand all that. But moms, and please listen carefully now, cut it out.
When you step between your children and the research process, you are actively interfering with the learning process. It's as if you tried to step in and run the warm-up laps for your child before a game of soccer. It doesn't do the child any good.
It's as if you found the recipe, bought the ingredients, and then asked the child to set out the plates: wonderfully convenient, but your child will never learn to cook.
Real education is not just about the product, it's about the process. Research skills are easily learned. Their exercise develops a skill that has broad ramifications and utility for the rest of your child's life. Let them do the work.
Incidentally, most of our libraries do offer various classes on looking things up. Ask about them. Check out our website (which now has a new, shorter address: www.dpld.org, although the older douglas.lib.co.us will also work) to find our Internet class schedule. But do try to do this sometime BEFORE the day the report is due.
Oh, and kids, I just want to say to you, and I mean this sincerely, (Mumble).