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.
August 18, 2005 - Contrary Thoughts
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
For instance, I have two very strong and absolutely contrary notions about politics. I believe in individual freedom. The preservation of that freedom, it seems to me, is the only moral justification for the state.
On the other hand, I believe in community. There are times when people must curb their behavior in order to live together.
Only a fool would believe that the two never come into conflict. Yet reasonable people may disagree about precisely where to draw the line between the two.
I believe in the strict interpretation of the Constitution.
But I also believe that no document -- whether it be Constitution or Scripture -- can possibly foresee every eventuality, and that sometimes you have to toss the wisdom of your ancestors right out the window. You have to make a personal decision -- and abide by the consequences.
I believe in religious freedom. That is, your beliefs are your own business.
Unless, of course, you impose those beliefs on me, or those beliefs lead to behavior that interferes with others' safety or freedom.
I believe in the right of people to make a living.
But I have, swimming around in my body, a substance called PCB -- globules of a virtually indestructible industrial lubricant that has been shown to cause cancer. I got it from swimming around in Lake Michigan when I was a kid, not far from the Johnson Motor plant, which dumped this substance into the lake.
So I also think people bigger and more powerful than me should slap regulations and penalties on other people who flush their poison into my body. (Why? Because Johnson Motor can afford better lawyers than I can.)
I believe in the primacy of individual choice -- whether it be books to read at the library, films to view at the theater, people to hang out with, and more.
Yet I also bemoan the pap that too often passes for literature, the movies made for morons, the social ties as pointless as they are absurd.
I believe the world is glorious, straining with splendor. I am proud to be a human being; I revel in this earth. I am also aware that for countless beings, the world is ruthless, cruel, even wanton with indifference. People are not just monsters sometimes, but often.
I believe that groups are often incredibly powerful in the making of decisions, quickly sorting through complex factors to find a solid consensus that balances and resolves all those factors.
I also believe that groups can come up with things so monumentally foolish, tyrannical, and deadly as to drive me to a hermitage.
All of these things, I believe, capture the lure of librarianship. I view every idea with gladness and suspicion. I greet the mission of each institution with warmth and disdain.
I am convinced that the real value of the public library is that it is both common and neutral ground. The brilliance and madness of our political parties, the incisiveness and dimness of our science, the exaltation and pettiness of faith, the trustworthiness and the utter corruption of our closest friends, the joy and the despair of life (and, come to that, your family, your neighborhood, your town, your state, your nation, your planet, and for all I know, your solar system), are ALL on display at your local library.
Or, to end this with another quote: "There is a time for Buddhist meditation. And there is a time for Irish whiskey." - Joseph Campbell