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 30, 2003 - Mistakes in Columns
Let me tell you about the agony of being a weekly columnist.
The problem is not coming up with ideas. There's always so much going on in our libraries (not to mention my own head) that I've only had real trouble coming up with a topic just three times in 16 years.
In fact, there's so much going on around here, I often kick myself for having overlooked something that would have made a great column on that particular date.
Mostly, the opportunity to think about library issues, right out in public, week after week, is a good thing. It keeps me honest, keeps me curious, keeps me connected to the profession at the same time is makes the library less mysterious to me community.
But the agonizing piece is this: despite the fact that I consider myself reasonably articulate and educated, despite the fact that I always give myself at least 6 hours between writing a column and editing it one last time before I send it in, it just KILLS me how often I make basic mistakes in grammar or spelling.
I'd love to blame the News Press. But the truth is, the editors pretty much print it the way I send it. I deeply appreciate their confidence. I sure wish I deserved it.
I no longer worry about some things. I split infinitives with impunity. The rule against that was just dumb -- an attempt to make English conform to Latin grammar.
The same thing holds true for the injunction not to end sentences with prepositions. In Latin, you can't. But English isn't Latin. Or as Winston Churchhill put it, "This is the sort of nonsense up with which I shall not put."
I start some sentences with "and" and "but." By way of justification, I cite William Zinsser, author of "On Writing Well." Zinsser says the purpose of writing is to be clear. And giving clear signals to the reader about what's coming next is a good, not a bad thing.
I used to tell people that I made one goofy mistake each week, just to see if anyone was watching. But that's a lie. I was just covering myself. I'm sure I do make at least one mistake a week, though. English is a tricky language. As I used to say when I was a literacy tutor for adults, "English follows 80% of its rules -- 20% of the time."
My most common goof is something that has just about become an American standard. It goes like this: "The Board made several comments. They said..." A board is an it, not a they.
Another version is, "A parent may be confused by all the educational options. Should they choose neighborhood schools, charter schools, or home schooling?" "A parent" isn't a they, either.
Lately, I seem to be having more and more trouble getting my subjects and verbs to agree. It's that singular versus plural thing again.
I won't even get into the issue of the subjunctive - "if it were" (correct, but sounds funny) or "if it was" (wrong, but sounds right).
By the way, I made a big mistake in THIS week's column. Can you find it?
If so, I don't need to know about it.