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.
March 19, 2003 - Too Much Information
Some 12 years ago, I wrote a professional article that a lot of my colleagues ridiculed.
I was talking about email, then beginning to be hailed as a kind of perfect communication tool, both intimate and immediate.
"Mark my words," I wrote. "Coming tomorrow -- junk email."
OK, I got the name wrong. Today it's called "spam" (after the hilarious Monty Python sketch). But I nailed the idea.
At this moment, the dawn of the 21st century, it is estimated that spam costs corporate America at least $10 billion per year of lost productivity.
Nowadays, many of us also have personal email accounts. It's hard to calculate the personal cost of spam. Certainly, there is some entertainment value. A full 80% of my unsolicited email has to do with increasing the size of various body parts (40% male parts, 40% female). Most of the others have to do with reducing all the rest of me.
Now that's funny, and I'll happily ante up some of my time for a laugh. But not for the same joke, not every day, day after day, week after week, year after year.
Fortunately, what technology hath wrought it can also rend asunder.
Apple's new operating system includes an email enhancement that, in the background, tells the spammer that your address is invalid. Sorry!
Mozilla -- the blindingly fast (and free!) Open Source browser and email program -- is about to offer a similar service. Like the Mac software, it lets you tell it what you think is spam. Correct it for a while. Then let it run. (Incidentally, Mozilla also lets you disable, with one click under your "preferences," those annoying popup ads you get when you're browsing the Internet.)
Lately, I'm investigating options (mostly through another Open Source program called Evolution) to automatically sort my email, to move it from inbox to folder, the folders arranged by how often I need to look at them. And I'm also sending a lot of those emails to a folder I call " spam."
I believe in the value of information. But too much information, flooding my inbox, is just noise.
Sometimes you have to manage your life as if it were a library. You have to categorize, and sort, and assign some value to all the traffic.
I suppose it's sad that much of that email traffic is worthless. But I've concluded that you have a choice. Give your time, give your life, to the importunities of strangers. Or assert the priorities you've so painfully established.
The library itself works hard to winnow the wheat from the chaff. Our online databases, for instance, comprise only the best sources. It's the difference between the authoritative advice of a knowledgeable friend you trust, or a random Google search. It's the difference between email that matters and trash.
It's the difference finally, between meaning and noise.