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.
July 7, 2005 - Librarians in Fiction
If you're about to take a long road trip with your family (and I just did, to attend a couple of events in Chicago), I advise two things:
1) Have a companionable family. When I was a kid, we engaged in things like whacking each other repeatedly on our sunburns. My kids work out synchronized seated dance moves. It is better to hear the sound of giggles than the sound of screams.
2) Take some audiobooks. We took "Looking for Bobowicz," written and read by Daniel Pinkwater. We took "Matilda" by Roald Dahl. We also took "War of the Worlds" -- the original Orson Welles broadcast.
In the first and second, I was delighted to meet two distinctive librarians. Pinkwater introduced Starr Lackawanna, "a woman with wild hair, wearing what looked like a gym suit with rainbow-striped leg warmers and cape." Ms. Lackawanna was one of the few people in the town of Hoboken, NJ, who was willing to talk to young people. (The others included a pirate radio station operator, a bum in the park, and a mad scientist.) Lackawanna tells the kids that she lives to "amaze and astonish."
I won't spoil the story, but suffice it to say that Ivan Itch, known (understandably) as "Nick," moves from his suburban Happy Valley into the big city because his parents want him to have "urban experiences." Within half an hour, his bicycle is stolen. The rest of the story involves Classics Illustrated comics, old music, Beaux Arts, and libraries as authoritative repositories of local history. It also features, it almost goes without saying, a giant chicken. Highly recommended.
I'd seen the "Matilda" movie, and enjoyed it. The book is set in England. Matilda is an extremely precocious child, raised by a crooked dad and a negligent mother. Matilda's life starts to turn around when she finds the local library, where Mrs. Phelps, local librarian, gently steers her to the world of classic literature. Phelps is interesting: concerned and thoughtful, but most unwilling to interfere except by acts of professional courtesy and kindness.
Later Matilda goes to school, where she meets a wonderful teacher, and a school master who can only be described as nightmarish. As with Pinkwater, all ends well.
On the whole, I found both of these portrayals of my colleagues sympathetic and positive. It happens that authors Pinkwater and Dahl had childhoods in which the charming and magical was occasionally mixed up with adult brutality. Pinkwater's father was apparently a gangster; Dahl was savagely caned by a cruel headmaster.
Fortunately, librarians can be trusted to provide sanctuary, to tell the truth, to treat children with respect.
The last audiobook was "War of the Worlds." This story of a Martian invasion was written by H.G. Wells, and reworked as part of a famous radio broadcast on the night before Halloween, in 1938. Over a million people thought it was happening for real. The audiobook also presents snippets of another version (released during the Vietnam War), and rare audio interviews with both H.G. Wells and Orson Welles.
After the first broadcast, there was a fierce national debate. Some were concerned that the young media of radio had demonstrated that it could be used to sell preposterous lies. Others found the gullibility of Americans very funny.
At any rate, don't forget to pack the audiobooks before that trip. It sure beats looking at license plates.