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.
April 13, 2005 - Teens and the Library
I can't remember if I was 13 or 14. I do remember that I was playing a lot of chess.
Back then, a lad could wander downtown, stroll into the old library (the new library was a couple of blocks away) and face a series of old guys over a chessboard.
It was timed chess. When you made a move, you slapped the clock.
I fought my way to "expert" status. One of the people I played was a charming, near-bald, older gent with the uncharming name of Bevier Butts.
It turned out that Mr. Butts, before his retirement, had been something of a civic tour de force. And one day, when I talked with him over a game about the need for a place for teens to gather, he suggested that I try to do something about it.
So I did. I scouted out an abandoned lunch dive on Sheridan Road, overlooking Lake Michigan. (Well, not really. Its BACK was to Lake Michigan.)
I put together a team of teens willing to clean it up. I talked to the owner, and figured out what it would take to make rent. I got close to a 20% discount.
I talked to a local soft drink distributor willing to cut a deal on supplying teen beverages. He would set us up for free the first time, then charge us just his cost for replacing the inventory. I thought we might even make some money.
Then I started to line up some bands. I was thinking: dance club.
I reported on all this at the next chess tournament.
Then Mr. Butts invited me to a City Council meeting to make a pitch for some subsidy. But he didn't just set me up. He stood before Council and made the case for me.
"Here," he said, "we have a teenager who isn't just complaining about things. He's trying to do something to make this community better. Let's support that effort!"
I got a glimpse about how civic things got decided. You figured out what you wanted. You put together a plan and a proposal. You presented it to the people whose money you needed to set you up.
And sometimes, you lost. I was, truly, very impressed with Mr. Butts. He made a good case, with passion, with eloquence, and with a sound business analysis.
They didn't buy it. I never got to open, as a teenager, a downtown business. I never became a big name music promoter.
But that may have been the first time someone of an older generation reached down his hand to me, as a teenager, because he subscribed to the belief that I lived in a town that belonged not just to everybody else, but to me, too.
Readers, this is a call to you to talk to your teens. And if you're a teen reading this, it's a call to YOU.
The library wants to serve Douglas County teenagers as well as we serve pre-schoolers, elementary students, and as well as we serve adults.
To do that, we need teens to answer some questions for us.
Douglas County teenagers can find an online survey at http://fs8.formsite.com/douglaslibraries/form215842611/index.html.
You have to respond by April 15, 2005.