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 25, 2005 - Libraries Help Children Learn Thirst for Literacy
My daughter Maddy is 17, just entering her senior year of high school. This summer she said farewell to many of her friends. They're off to college.
Next year she will be, too.
Although my son is just starting 6th grade I'm starting to notice all those parents whose children are gone. Yet another life change looms on the horizon, and not only for the children.
But this makes me remember many wonderful things. It also makes me appreciate anew a vital aspect of the public library.
It is all too easy these days to get snagged in the culture wars, to view our public institutions as battlegrounds, places where one ideology squares off against another, places where adults yell at each other.
Here's something that just might be common ground. One of the deep purposes of the public library is to establish the thirst for literacy in our young.
I remember the first time I propped Maddy in my lap to read her a book. I don't remember her age. She wasn't old enough to sit up by herself.
But I do remember how quickly this became something that both of us enjoyed. There is a deep and abiding beauty in parents introducing their offspring to image and print.
They begin a Story. What do I mean by that? A story is that life-affirming, life-building exploration of self that is love, and character, and event, and conflict, and change, and growth.
For many people in our society, the public library never even registers on their consciousness. Until they have a child.
Suddenly, these parents realize that the world is far larger than they'd thought. Such obvious things as color, the sound of words, even the smell of the printed page, all open the door to a whole lifetime (for the children) of attitude, alertness, and the real meaning of the word "intelligence."
It also, I believe, has a distinct effect on the parents. One definition of maturity is "investing in the world AFTER you."
One hundred years ago, the notion of adding children's books to the collections of public libraries was vigorously opposed by most of the day's intellectual leadership.
Today, children's books -- fairy tales, classics, Dr. Seuss, primers, and all manner of picture books -- account for as much as 42 percent of our checkouts.
Our children's storytimes are always packed. It's a place where mothers meet and children open their eyes and ears to another kind of literacy: the story shared.
I submit that this just might be one of the enduring values of one public institution.
Through our collections and programs, we give parents an occasion, an excuse, to do something wonderful. We let them talk to and listen with their children.
We also offer the chance to participate in those all-too-brief moments, so startling in the power, of our children's dawning.