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.
June 25, 2003 - Your Memories Are Safe With Us
I guess it was about two score years ago now. A fellow named Walter LaRue, from Springfield, IL, was visiting Mountainburg, Arkansas. He was in quest of genealogical information.
He came strolling up the hill to one Margret Trentham LaRue (wife of Christopher Columbus LaRue, mother of Jesse James LaRue). She looked at him and said, "I've never seen you before in my life, but I can tell by your ears you're a LaRue." (Many LaRues do indeed have outsize ears. The better to hear you with, my dear.)
Well, Margaret invited Walter in to sit. Before long, she realized that many of the things he was interested in were right there in her family Bible. There were births and deaths and names and notes. "Just the other day," she said, "I started wrapping up that Bible to send it off to the library. Nobody else in the family seemed to care about it. But I tell you what, I'd rather give it to kin."
So it was that Walter, a sort of fourth cousin, made off with the family Bible.
I found out about all this when I got interested in genealogy myself. I happened to be living, of all the places I might have been living, in Springfield, Illinois. Walter was still around, still had the Bible, and after we chatted awhile, even offered to give it back.
But he had been a good custodian. He was also a far more active genealogist than I was ever going to be. So I settled for making some photocopies.
Not long after that, I moved, and I hear that Walter has since died. Now I'm sorry I turned him down.
The truth is, my great-grandmother was right the first time. That Bible should have gone to the library. When Walter offered to give it back, I should have taken it, and passed it along to the library where I worked.
A keen interest in family history sometimes skips a generation or two. The current custodians break the chain of key belongings, especially the ones like family histories and photographs.
Then, when the next genealogist comes along, everything has been scattered to the four winds. The chain is broken. The stories are lost. The key connections between people of one time to another are dissolved.
When a library gets hold of such bounty, things are different. We are the welcome mat of many a community for visiting genealogists. People who start with the library often find manifold riches.
Take, for instance, our own Douglas County History Research Center. We have thousands of old books, documents and photographs, tenderly preserved in acid-free boxes. Soon, in our new Philip S. Miller Library, they will be moved to a climate controlled environment, with its own special sprinkler system that won't destroy materials even while it douses a fire.
Moreover, we work diligently to describe, to index. We organize the past to better serve the present -- and the future.
Some libraries have helped reunite whole branches of families, just because we happened to have the right wedding announcement, the right photograph, the right microfilm of an obituary.
So when that great-nephew of yours strolls in fifty years from now, we'll still have it, it will still be in good shape, and we'll be able to lay our hands on just what that young man will want to know.
The next time you're thinking about getting rid of something that you don't care about, but some other kinfolk, some day, just might -- think of the library.
Your memories are safe with us.