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.
September 29, 2005 - What is the Western Experience?
About a year ago, I went to Bulgaria, under a United States Department of State grant. I was supposed to be teaching some of the techniques of modern librarianship as practiced in the United States.
But in fact, I found that I served a far broader role. I was an ambassador for our country. I was bombarded with questions about American history, politics, and sociology. Often, I found myself called upon to explain, and sometimes to defend, American values.
Of course travel isn't all about talking. It's also about listening, and I did a lot of that, too. But remembering that experience gave me a renewed appreciation for our Rotary International Exchange program.
The Exchange program -- under which we not only send American children (typically in their third or fourth year of high school) to other countries for a year, but also host children from those countries -- is a wonderful opportunity for those individuals to grow.
It is also a chance to promote greater understanding among cultures.
But sometimes, we don't do such a good job of preparing our "outbound" students for their diplomatic mission.
To address that, Castle Rock businessman Mickey Foutts came up with an interesting idea.
Why not assemble a "book pack" -- a collection of American books -- that might travel with our students?
One such book could be "Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West," by James Owen.
It's a beautiful coffee table book with an interesting thesis: what's wrong with a lot of corporate misbehavior in recent years shouldn't be addressed through a new round of corporate regulation. What's needed isn't external control, but internal integrity.
Or as it states on the back cover: "... imagine what could happen if Wall Street firms looked back to a simpler time when a handshake was enough to seal a deal, and right and wrong were as clear as black and white. What if executives, portfolio managers, analysts, and traders decided that some things aren't for sale? What if every major investment firm agreed to live by the principle that the client always comes first?"
Most of the ethical insights are drawn from the working life of the Western cowboy.
Mickey and I got to talking about what else might be in the book pack. Which books really captured the values of the American West?
Or as we put it, which books captured, in some incisive way, the Western Experience?
I wanted to put in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain. A quintessentially American character, Huck exemplifies a lot about the beginning of the Western expansion.
Mickey suggested that I toss the question out to my librarian colleagues. I did, on an electronic mailing list. And I have gotten back a flood of wonderful suggestions.
You can find their titles - about 150 of them! - at www.jlarue.com/westexp.html.
But I've found their choices so interesting, I thought it would be worthwhile to invite our local community into the process as well.
So here's the invitation: email or write this paper with your answer to this question:
Which BOOK (not movie or music -- the rest of the world knows all about those) in your judgment best captures the "Western Experience?"
And it's not enough to say what. In 200 words or less, you also have to say why.
There are some wonderful books out there. Tell us about them!