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.
May 18, 2006 - Literacy is a Life
Some people think the word "literacy" means the attainment of a specific reading level.
They may have heard that literacy is where an elementary student should be at the end of fourth grade. (Fourth grade does indeed appear to be that crucial year when somebody "gets" print, or needs a little extra assistance at just that moment.)
Or they think it means someone can follow newspaper headlines and get the gist of a story. Or maybe they think literacy is what helps someone decipher the instructions on a prescription.
And of course, those things do involve literacy -- of the most basic kind. But it's like defining "art" as "can sharpen crayons."
These things are the beginning of literacy, not the end. Literacy is not a state, a minimum skill, like learning to zip a zipper or even ride a bicycle.
Instead, literacy is an activity. It means many things.
* to actively engage in the world of print, media, and conversation. Some people read the newspaper. But others also read the reviews: not just for books, but for movies and music, too. They track what's going on in many different formats. They attend concerts and plays. They enjoy arguing about it with their friends.
* to use a variety of information sources skillfully and in a sophisticated manner. Let's take just one example. Lots of folks use Google. Some folks use it well -- and understand that Google doesn't even know about at least 75% of Internet resources. Such people are deft at using both the public Internet, and the many treasures available through subscription sources, like those of the public library.
* to apply that information to one's life for personal growth or understanding. Literacy isn't just about passively absorbing information. It's about picking and choosing things that will add real value to your life.
* to think critically about statements, artistic accomplishments, and society.
This idea of "critical thinking" comes up a lot in the field of education. In my more cynical moments, I wish I thought somebody in our society had a clue what this might mean.
As I have lamented in this space before, just spouting the party line -- ANY party line -- in response to some topic isn't really much of a contribution. Critical thinking means an openness to new information, even if it doesn't fit your preconceptions.
But it doesn't stop there.
Critical thinking is about combining all those things mentioned above to assemble a framework of facts, to probe that information for real insight and knowledge, and to test the conclusions in your own life.
To my mind, the exercise of literacy moves you from being a passive consumer to being an active producer. What's the product? Ideas! Or more print, more music, more theater, more art.
If all the world is a stage, we need more than an audience. We need players. Or to switch metaphors, literacy is a series of experiments and explorations. And the public library is the laboratory.
Literacy is more than a life skill. It's a life.