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.
October 17, 2001 - ...If We Only Have the Freedom to Agree, We Have No Freedom at All
I need to correct a news story that came out last week on the front page of the News Press. The facts got badly scrambled.
Three Mideastern men did NOT come to Castle Rock seeking information about the Highlands Ranch water supply.
Shortly before September 11, three men who may have been Mideastern came to the Highlands Ranch Library asking about companies in the Denver area that specialized in desalinization. Desalinization is the process of preparing drinking water from salt water.
I mentioned this to the News Press reporter as evidence of how otherwise innocent behavior can be misinterpreted these days.
Start with September 11. Add to this the recent announcement by top government officials, widely disseminated in the media, that we should all be on the highest possible alert about another terrorist incident. Throw in all the articles and TV shots about biological and bacteriological weapons. It's a potent recipe for hysteria.
So it's not surprising, and may even be commendable, that library staff recalled the question about water treatment as faintly threatening. After comparing notes, we straightened out the story. But for a time, we had an internal rumor.
Clearly, terrorist attacks are all too possible. If library staff have information that might avert another one, we will pass it along to appropriate authorities.
But here's the part that bothers me. Surfing the Internet while Mideastern has somehow become a suspicious activity. In other words, we're all falling into the troublesome practice of "profiling."
Few of us have the savvy to differentiate at a glance among the many ethnic, religious and political factions of the Mideastern world. It can get ludicrous. Hawaiians have been stopped in Montana. In Denver, Sikhs have been threatened. When I lived in Illinois, I employed a gentle and even timid woman whose family had fled from Iran. Are we to lump them all into the same "other?"
Adrenaline is not a judgment enhancing drug.
There are predictable characteristics during times of war. Our country has been attacked; there is a resurgence of national pride. The library district itself, after September 11, looked around and saw that we don't have flagpoles at some of our libraries; we have ordered them.
Some would argue that until recently we have lived in too fractious times: state and federal governments neatly divided by party, "culture wars," vituperative media cockfights between liberals and conservatives, and more. Some coming together, some reunification along core American beliefs, may not be a bad thing.
What are those beliefs? It has to be something more than,"my tribe," the people who happen to live within the same geographic boundaries.
I would argue that the deep meaning of America really is freedom. One dimension of that is economic freedom. It is the story of the immigrant: the one who escapes from the devastation of the Old Country and raises a family whose lives have more security, more abundance, than could have been dreamed of before.
The second kind of freedom is the freedom to dissent. To be a Muslim when surrounded by Christians, a Republican when surrounded by Democrats, to be a member of any actual or virtual minority, and to be able to live in peace, without fear of harassment, incarceration, or physical violence.
I have great respect for President Bush's repeated insistence that we must not repeat the mistakes of earlier generations, the mistake of ethnic scapegoating. But that's one of the other things that happens in times of conflict: fear and misplaced suspicion.
Another one is increasing intolerance for dissent, forgetting that if we only have the freedom to agree, we have no freedom at all.