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 20, 2005 - Passing on the Torch
It was the morning after my last night in Springfield, IL. I'd stayed up late packing, along with my wife (who got stuck STARTING to pack while I wrapped up a final conference obligation). We were off to a new life in Colorado, where I'd taken my first job as a library director.
My last stop on the way out was Lincoln Library, where I had been Assistant Director for 3 years (and Circulation Department Head for 2 years before that).
I had to pick up the PC I'd bought with my own money -- back when it was really, really unusual for a public official to have a computer on his or her desk.
I boxed it up and set it on a cart. My boss, Library Director Carl Volkmann, offered to accompany me down the elevator.
As we sank from the administrative third floor to the basement parking garage, I turned to the man who had taken such a gamble on me. "Thank you," I said, "for giving me this amazing opportunity."
To my utter surprise, his eyes filled with tears. He blinked and turned away for a minute. Then he looked back at me. "I thought I'd prepared myself," he said.
I get it. Now.
You see, some six years ago, I recruited another young librarian to what is, in some peculiar sense, "my" library. (I know, it's really yours, but I mean "not Carl's.") The name of this young librarian is Claudine Perrault. She hadn't worked in a public library before, but from conversation at conferences, from our email debates on library fora, from her interview, I thought she'd be great. I hired her as manager of our Lone Tree Library.
For the past six years, she HAS been great. She has given me one of the greatest pleasures any administrator ever gets: watching people grow.
These days, most of our libraries are seeing something like a 6% increase in business for checkouts. At Lone Tree, that would be thirty percent.
Claudine has been a force for change at our library, articulating new goals, advocating for them with passion and integrity, reveling in her staff. I have striven to be a good mentor to her, as Carl was to me. But mostly, I suspect, she grew on her own.
And now, starting in September, she'll be packing up her own family for a move. She will be a director herself -- of the Estes Park Public Library. They're lucky to get her.
I well remember what that first job is like. The weird feeling of actually being in charge. The sober realization that you can't blame any big screw-ups on somebody else. Now the responsibility is (gulp) yours.
And then, the discovery that ... this is really fun. This is what you're meant to do. This is living!
In some ways, this profound feeling -- of pride and loss -- makes me feel a little, well, old. It's a passing of the torch.
But mostly, I remember my own mentor. Carl, here's another "thank you," for providing yet again a wonderful model for just what principled and heartfelt leadership really looks -- and feels -- like.