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 26, 2003 - The Home Library
I'm shocked when I visit the houses of some of the people I know. They are often exquisite housekeepers. They possess a flair for decoration that I can appreciate, but cannot match.
Often, too, they are more diligent, more industrious in the maintenance of their homes than I.
But they don't have any books!
I mean it. No favorite childhood books. No comic books. No reference shelves. No series -- and I don't care if it's the Hardy Boys, the Lord of the Rings, or "the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" -- ya gotta have series!
Some people have home entertainment centers the size of the local multiplex, but not a bookshelf in sight.
I should think that even if you're not a big reader, you'd be interested in acquiring a brace of books if only to improve your R-value. (A wall of books provides excellent home insulation).
If you have children, then an absence of books is inexcusable. Repeated studies have shown that one of the greatest contributing factors in the education of your children is the presence of print in the home. Don't you care?
It occurred to me, though, that maybe people don't have books in their houses just because they don't know where to start. (This is very different from the problem of librarians, who don't know where to stop.)
So this week, as a public service, I'm going to offer a list of what I believe to be the minimum requirements for a home library.
The World Almanac. This is an annual purchase. No other single volume so succinctly and intelligently organizes the world. The Almanac puts most geo-political information -- population, budgets, leaders, top news stories, and so forth -- immediately at hand. It belongs beside another obvious purchase, namely ...
Newspapers. You need at least two. You have to have a local paper to keep up your immediate environment. You should subscribe to a metro Denver daily. A truly dedicated reader would also subscribe to a paper of national repute, but I admit that I myself barely get through the other two.
The World Book Encyclopedia. An encyclopedia lasts a good 5 years, and may run 10. The Encyclopedia Britannica and the Encyclopedia Americana are both good. But the World Book, in my judgment, is still the winner in clarity of writing style, cogency of illustrations, and straightforwardness of organization. You can buy a CD-ROM encyclopedia, too, if you like, but here I'm talking the whole paper set. In our family, the World Book is something we send each other to when a topic comes up at the dinner table. You can't do that with a CD (and besides, the paper version has more copy).
American Heritage Dictionary. You need a good dictionary, and the American Heritage is topnotch, hitting just the right balance between currency and authoritativeness. A dictionary lasts 5-10 years, too.
National Geographic. You need at least one magazine subscription, and the Geographic continues its remarkable tradition of lively writing and stunning photography. And nothing hooks children on reading like giving them subscriptions in their own name.
Rand McNally Atlas. I can't tell you how handy this is. We have both the United States travel guide and an international atlas at home, but truthfully, when it comes to international maps, I prefer a globe, which I also recommend.
Local phone books and the Yellow Pages. In Douglas County, you need at least two local phone books, not to mention the big Denver books. But the Yellow Pages are a powerful tool to keeping your money in your own community.
A library card. The above represents the bare minimum. Your library card gives you access to everything else.
If I had more time, I'd add a few others: a cookbook, a Bible (both King James and Revised Standard), the Tao te Ching, a Dictionary of Quotations, the Reader's Encyclopedia, a collection of world poetry, or at least American poetry. A compendium of fairy tales, whether you've got kids at home or not. A handyman guide.
And let's throw this open to the rest of you. What books do YOU consider essential at home? Call me at 720-733-8624, or email me at email@example.com. I'll print the list here next week.