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 6, 2006 - The War of Independence Still Being Fought
Since this column comes out so close to Independence Day, let me recommend a
book. It's called "The Founding Brothers: A Revolutionary Generation," by
Joseph Ellis. It's available from our libraries in several formats: book,
large type, CD, Cassette, and now, even on VHS and DVD.
It's a shame they don't teach history this way. Instead, we get elementary
school fiction, in which the Founding Fathers did boring things, building to
the inevitable climax of our own perfect government.
The truth was, the American Revolution was a time of almost unimaginable
tumult. There were religious conflicts, duels of honor, agitation over
slavery, and an emerging struggle between agrarian society and
pre-industrial. There was over half a continent to be explored -- and many
Indian tribes with their own views on the matter.
The Founding Fathers -- or the revolutionary brothers, as Ellis has it -- did
not meet in measured calm, and quietly agree on the rules for a new
government. They fought, not always fairly. They argued publicly and
passionately, about both personal and political matters.
And when they were done, they had established a nation unlike any before it.
It was a nation founded on compromise and mutual distrust; now we call it
"checks and balances," and we ignore those systems at our peril.
It was a nation founded in the midst of deep and bitter issues it could not
then fully resolve -- witness the enshrinement of slavery in our
Constitution. But without that compromise, there would have been no nation.
Beneath it all was something truly magnificent: an idea that had at least some
of its roots in the Iroquois Confederacy. Our first official formulation was
Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence: that we all have
certain "inalienable rights." He was saying that in America, all were equal
under the law.
It was a lie, of course. Even after the Constitution was adopted, there was
slavery. Property-holding men could vote. No woman could.
But it was a good lie.
That root idea was so powerful, and grew so deep into the minds of the
emerging nation, that it continued to work, trying to untangle the
contradictions at the core of the Constitution. Four score and twenty years
after the Declaration, was Gettysburg. Later, there was another battle for
The deep history of the United States is all about that idea of personal
equality. And it has always been in conflict with our actual social
Not for us was the class-bound system of England, with its hereditary titles
and lands. Not for us was the control of the state by priests. In our
country, in this brave new nation, all were to be equal under the law.
Of course, these days, we do have a very distinct class system, now based on
wealth, passed not by title but by trust fund. Yesteryear's priests are
today's televangelists. And it's just possible that these threats are as much
a danger to personal freedom as they were over 230 years ago.
Even our Bill of Rights faces many current challenges: there are people held
without charges, records searched without permission or legal review. We
still debate whether equal rights includes homosexuals, or workers we eagerly
employ, but who had the misfortune to be born elsewhere.
But we haven't given up.
The real meaning of the United States of America is not our flag. It's not
even our money. It is that stubborn belief in each individual's right to
"life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
The Revolution continues.