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.
April 10, 2002 - An Open Mind
Some years ago a woman who read my columns every week told me, "You and I are the only people in Douglas County with an open mind."
I grinned. She said, "No really. I always agree with you."
That tickled me, too. Why? For one thing, just because you agree with someone doesn't mean that person has an open mind; it only means you share the same opinions.
For another, in the course of writing a column, it's not unusual for me to change my own mind three or four times.
Yet, I think I DO have an open mind. Here's why: no matter how much research I've done, I always entertain the possibility that I might be wrong.
I've learned, over the years, that this is a fairly unusual characteristic. People receive or fabricate opinions early in life, and spend a sometimes astonishing amount of energy defending those opinions, whether or not there's a whole lot of evidence for them.
Or to paraphrase one of my favorite quotes, "When confronted with contrary evidence, people have two choices: change their prejudice, or try to justify it. Most folks get busy on the proof."
I'm not immune to this, of course. I do have my biases.
But back when I was still a kid, I remember a very clear dream. Some fifteen people were gathered around the table. I was one of them. Everyone (men, women, people of various races) said something, sometimes in languages I didn't speak.
Then, abruptly, we all SHIFTED. Now I was the next person, number 14 instead of 15. We went around the table again, and this time, I said what that person said the last time. When the next cycle completed, we shifted again. This went on all night.
Here's the peculiar truth of my psyche: I really can imagine waking up tomorrow in almost anybody's life.
I share this trait with all my siblings: one brother, and both sisters. I don't know where we got it -- maybe from my mother, a gifted head nurse for the Veteran's Administration. She had an unusually strong sense of empathy. I do know that whenever my siblings heard someone's life story, we all found it remarkably easy to imagine ourselves inside of it.
Like the service orientation of nursing, librarianship encourages this idiosyncrasy. Whether we're behind the circulation desk, the reference desk, or sequestered in the back room, the ability to see things from the other side means that librarians can be quick to get what you're after.
It can also be bewildering. Some people have the reassuring ability always to know what's right. They're conservative, no question. Or they're liberal, how else? Or they're Christian, or Jew, or Hindu, just as they're supposed to be. I admit that such an attitude baffles me.
To be genuinely open-minded is a lot of work. It means that you're always dredging up your hidden premises, and exposing them to contradictory evidence. It means that you always have to seriously consider the notion that you were, and might be right now, utterly mistaken. It means that even if you pick out a new belief, that might be wrong, too.
I've never met anybody who thought that sounded like fun. Except my own family.