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.
July 4, 2001 - Independence Day
Back in college, I had an American History course that took an odd twist. Our teacher wanted our final project to be a sort of historical skit. The students got to choose among various roles, but those roles were pretty vague. I, for instance, volunteered for the character of a gentleman farmer. The play was set in New England, around 1774.
The teacher gave us various scenes, but no script. For instance, he said, "Suppose you just finished dinner with your father. In walks a guy who favors Revolution. What do you say?"
In between the assignment and the performance, we didn't have the opportunity to rehearse. But we did have the chance to do some research, spend some time at the library. We looked at the writings of Thomas Paine. We spent some time on the Federalist papers. And I read other books around the topic.
Well, when we got to the performance, I found myself thoroughly prepped. My basic take on my character was this: "Are you all crazy? What language do we speak? English! Where does our literature, our learning, our history, come from? England! From whence comes our faith, our commerce, our institutions, our very politics? England! How are we to resolve our disputes, if every time we disagree with our parents, our brothers, each declares independence from the other? How can such divisiveness possibly lead to a new, unified nation?î
I was passionate and serious. I tried most earnestly to argue them out of their utter folly and ingratitude. I rolled off the number of English ships versus the totally inadequate number of 'American' vessels. I pointed out that almost all the manufactured goods we needed came from England. Would England continue to trade with us during a war? We came to the new world to better ourselves. War would leave us with nothing!
Besides, I wondered aloud, I'd been a good neighbor, hadn't I? If I now refused to go along with this clear treason against our nation, our homeland, what would happen to me? My family? Imprisonment? Execution?
The longer I went on, the more I realized just how dramatic the real situation was, back there in Revolutionary days. History writes the story that wins. The story of America is not the story of a foolish and ill-prepared insurrection by a group of ungrateful colonists. It could have been. Instead, the tale is about the founding of a nation, a nation, today, that is the last remaining superpower, the sun having set at last on the British Empire.
My character spoke from a viewpoint that could only be described as conservative: the attempt to preserve traditional values and social patterns.
The fact is, the founding of America was in every sense an extreme and drastic act. Americans abandoned the very concept of a king. They severed what had been, until then, the unbroken European history of the unification of church and state ("no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States"). They granted as "rights" things that were barely privileges in other lands (freedom of speech, the press, and religion; the right to bear arms; to peaceably assemble; to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures; and much more, as detailed on our remarkable "Bill of Rights").
Not all of those things have worked out quite the way the Founders might have hoped.
But even so, it's hard to see it any other way. Our nation was founded by some of the most radical folks ever to thumb their noses at authority. And get away with it.
Happy Independence Day.