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 30, 2002 - Libraries Still Reasonably Safe Public Places
When I was a kid, I remember heading over to a local carnival one summer night. With me was a buddy about the same age. We were 7 years old or so. We had a good time listening to the barkers, agonizing over which rides most deserved our meager allowances, and generally soaking up atmosphere.
Then we met a very well dressed, middle aged man who was unusually friendly. He bought us a couple of snow cones and seemed to want to hang around us. Finally, he asked if he could show us something he had out in his car.
I remember looking at my friend, who returned the gaze blankly. I said, "Sure! Are you out in the parking lot?"
The man smiled, "Just around the corner behind this tent," he said. "Great!" I said. "But I left my hat back by the ticket booth. We'll go get it, and meet you there!"
He seemed pleased, and wandered off into the dark, toward where he said his car was.
My friend and I turned toward the ticket booth. The instant the man was out of sight, both of us starting running. We didn't stop till we got home.
In part, our suspicions went back to the "never take candy from strangers" talk from our moms (which we had just done, of course). But it was also intuition. It just didn't add up.
That was 40 years ago. Those were, I've been told, the good old days.
More recently, just this month in fact, a library patron, quietly minding her own business in the Denver Public Library's children's room, was suddenly attacked by a man with a knife. Also this month, as featured prominently in the metro media, children have been sexually assaulted in public schools, and even in a church.
So parents are understandably worried. I even had someone ask me, "Is our library safe?"
Here's the straight story: no.
The awful truth is, anywhere you go, whether it be the grocery store, the gas station, the post office, or even your own home, someone could turn violent. If you're looking for absolute guarantees of personal safety, at the library or anywhere else, I'm afraid you're out of luck.
Some people are deeply disturbed and unpredictable. Sometimes they go to public places.
On the other hand, what so often gets lost in these discussions is a sense of perspective. In 2001 alone, our libraries had over 1.8 million visits. As far as I'm aware (and I believe I would have heard) not one person was mugged, knifed, or sexually assaulted.
In fact, I don't think it's EVER happened at any of our libraries. The odds are very much against it happening now. Even Denver Public, which has annual foot traffic greater than every single sporting event in the city COMBINED, and has been in business for over a century, has apparently had such an act of violence occur just once.
It's easy to be torn. I am confident that the public library is a REASONABLY safe place to hang out, no matter how old you are. But it also worries me when I see small, unaccompanied children apparently abandoned here.
Sure, we supervise public space. Sure, we'll step in if something looks amiss. But there are loonies out there, and bad things can happen fast.
So remember: the odds are very good that everything is perfectly fine at the library, both for you and your kids. But don't abandon kids too small to look after themselves, even if you'll be "right back." Even with older kids, instruct them to tell one of our staff if anyone is bothering them.
And stay alert.