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.
November 26, 2003 - Traditions
I had, depending on your viewpoint, the good or the bad luck of being raised in something of a religious vacuum.
For one summer, I went with my neighbor to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Later, my family belonged for about a year to a United Methodist Church, whose new minister greatly appealed to young people. He was a compelling and intense speaker, with a fresh, contemporary take on Christianity.
Everybody else liked him, too. They actually had to knock out the back of the church to add more seats. Then, after about six months of delivering fascinating, entertaining, and often deeply moving insights into the life and mind of Christ, he abruptly shifted his ministry. He called upon his congregation not just to admire Jesus, but try to follow His lead. That proved, alas, less popular.
Throughout my life, I've known Jews, Catholics, Episcopalians and members of the Greek Orthodox Church. These are all people with a rich and complex tapestry not only of belief, but of something that was pretty much absent in my house: ritual.
Of course, ritual isn't the exclusive province of religion. It seems that almost any human institution develops patterns of behavior that tend to become very stylized.
Some people find deep comfort in such ritual. The idea seems to be that things change in life, too many things, maybe. You get older. People die. Good things come to an end.
Ritual is a bulwark against change. It says, "This is something you can count on."
Ritual also promotes both community and conformity. Whether it's a ritual of dress, or speech, or of more subtle behaviors, rituals say, "I belong to this group of people."
This week's holiday, certainly qualifying as a uniquely North American ritual, is Thanksgiving. While it began as an entirely religious observance (in 1619, near what is now Charles City, Virginia), it became a national holiday in 1789. Interestingly, President George Washington expressed strong misgivings about this merger of religion and politics.
These days, Thanksgiving is mostly a secular observance. It was nonetheless an enduring ritual even in my childhood home. There were some dishes we had that you just couldn't hold Thanksgiving without (turkey, of course)- and some of them distinct to my family ("24 hour salad," mostly canned fruit and whipping cream).
And despite my stunted appreciation of ritual, I have held onto Thanksgiving. I not only like to eat, I like the whole idea behind Thanksgiving. That is, that we should give thanks, that most of us live lives of abundance, and that as the days shorten and the nights grow colder (finally!), that we can greet the winter with snug and well-provided homes.
It is my hope that among those provisions, you have laid in a healthy and diverse collection of books, music, and film, all supplied by your local library.
All Douglas County Libraries will be closed on Thanksgiving. In fact, we will also be closed on the evening before, the better to allow our staff to prepare feasts for their families.
From all of us to all of you, thank you.