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.
December 29, 2004 - Music
I don't know what you're thinking about at the end of the year, but here's what's on my mind. What is the evolutionary advantage of music?
You can understand that there are a host of desirable characteristics that influence your selection of a mate. Intelligence. Strength, either physical or emotional. Beauty. (Although, hmm, one might also ask, what's the evolutionary advantage of curly hair, when in the man, it's liable to fall out?) There is the equally mysterious power of the pheromone.
But back to the tune at hand. Is music like the tail of the male peacock? Designed to attract and thrill, with no other earthly purpose?
But think of all the uses of music. I have the privilege, several times a year, of announcing for the Castle Rock Band. Mostly, the band plays marches from a hundred years ago. It's stirring stuff -- but then you realize that such music, often including the aptly named "snare," serves largely to send our boys marching off to war. The bagpipes and drums have long been with us.
As my 10 year old son would say, "What's up with that?"
There are many who hold the reins of power in our world. But the names we know and remember are the names of musicians. The crowds gather only rarely for political reasons; often, for the singer or the band.
Words, language, speaks to our mind. It persuades. But music speaks to our heart. It commands.
Music holds powerful sway in religion. Even unbelievers can't help but be charmed by Christmas carols. Religious music also gives rise to feelings of exaltation -- feelings that might be otherwise hard to reach.
We fall in love to music. We have "our" songs. Music makes us tender. Mothers sing to their babies.
Music defines our times, from the syncopated rhythms of rag time to lush, big bands to soul music to punk rock.
And speaking of defining our times, there is the use of music in advertising. Studies show that certain cycles of music, piped through our malls and grocery stores, get us to spend more.
Music insinuates itself deep into our memory, driving out genuinely useful knowledge with, and here I speak from experience, the theme song of "Gilligan's Island."
Music involves tremendous human activity. Purists devote their lives to classical study and performance, the latter in enormous and expensive halls. More popular music employs and earns many millions: recording, producing, distributing, booking, selling knickknacks and photographs and mementos.
All of that activity is one of the reasons libraries collect music. It's clearly very important, personally and culturally.
I wonder how many people in the world can get through a whole day without hearing music -- on the radio, on a CD, on an MP3 player, over the Internet, in a restaurant or store -- or producing it themselves through whistling, humming, singing, or playing an instrument.
I can remember carrying my son, back when he was just 6 months old. I hummed "Mary Had a Little Lamb" to him -- and he hummed it back. We respond to music even before we respond to speech.
Some researchers believe the oldest human melody, a melody somehow rediscovered by every child, goes like this: "nyah nyah nyah NYAH nyah." The Ur-song of our species.
Music is somehow hardwired into our DNA.
But I just can't stop thinking about it. Why?
P.S. The library will close on New Year's Eve at 3 p.m. We will reopen on Sunday, at noon, January 2. May your New Year be filled with music.