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.
September 15, 2004 - This Column Must Die! (?)
"Being a newspaper columnist," wrote Lewis Grizzard, "is like being married to a nymphomaniac. The first two weeks are kind of fun."
I've been writing a weekly newspaper column (sometimes more than one a week) for 17 years. For 14 years, I've been writing for the News Press. The 3 years before that, I wrote for the Greeley Tribune.
For me, it has ALWAYS been fun. This weekly essay is a meditation, a reckoning. It is a record of my concerns, my experiments, my mistakes, my lessons, my attempts to connect a public institution to a community of fascinating individuals. I have a great time.
But here's the hard question, the one that haunts every writer: does anybody ELSE find this interesting?
It is so easy to fool myself. So I thought I'd do something I've never seen any other columnist do.
In your hands, Dear Reader, rests this column's fate.
How many (or how few) readers should a columnist have before he or she says, "It's time to find another line of work!"
Here's what I think. This paper claims a distribution of 15,250. To my knowledge it has never done a reader survey.
Not all the people who get a newspaper in their driveway actually read it. And not everyone who reads the paper reads the columns. And not everyone who reads columns reads me.
But surely, a columnist can hope for a modest 1% of the claimed distribution. One percent of 15,250 is 152. If I can't get 152 responses saying "I read your column" (that being the only thing you have to say) then I think I should stop, freeing space for another writer. Don't you?
This approach, incidentally, is the cornerstone of all the library's outreach efforts these days. We're trying to track what does, and doesn't, work. That includes the bully pulpit of the director.
I promise neither to gloat nor whine about the results. I'm about to leave the country for two weeks -- my first ever trip to Europe. When I come back, I'll either continue writing, or, quietly and (I hope) gracefully relinquish my 500-600 words a week.
If you read this column, please send an email to Heidi Harden, at the News Press, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 303-663-7175. (You can also, if you like, send a copy to me at email@example.com. But only the messages sent to Heidi will count.) Multiple voting is strictly discouraged. And no voting by library employees!
Your vote must be received by September 29, 2004.
If you don't read me, or if you do, but fervently wish I would stop, don't do anything at all. YOU, of course, may vote as many times as you wish.
Either way, thank you!