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 7, 2006 - Immigration Not Just a US Issue
My wife, son and I have just returned from a trip to Europe. It was part family vacation, and part a sobering task: dropping off our daughter at university in Germany.
Our first stop was London, where we'd rented a room at a bed and breakfast. We did some touristy things: a trip to the enormous Ferris Wheel of the London Eye, the Globe Theatre, the British Museum, an Aquarium by the Thames. But mostly, we did a lot of walking.
I guess I thought I was going to hear English accents. There was certainly enough opportunity: it's been a long time since I've been in a city that crowded. Everywhere we went, at almost any time of day, the streets teemed with people.
Since we often took the Tube, or the Underground, we had lots of opportunity to eavesdrop. Mostly, we heard young people, in their 20s and 30s.
But few of them spoke with an English accent. Instead I heard Indian, Pakistani, Turkish, Kurdish, Polish, Bulgarian, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and many others I couldn't even identify. The occasional Cockney or BBC accent almost jumped out at you.
Later, we spent a few days with relatives who live not far from Oxford (which is quite aways outside London, into the English countryside). And that's as close as I got to thinking about libraries -- we toured Oxford's Bodleian Library. In addition to being the university's key research tool, we learned, the Bod was also the location of three scenes in Harry Potter movies (the infirmary, a classroom, and of course, the library).
Later, one of our relatives told us that it was anticipated that in just the last year, Great Britain might see something like 40,000 immigrants from Poland. They got 400,000.
But not just from Poland. In France, there are so many social protections for workers that some companies are reluctant to hire young people; they can't get rid of them if they don't work out. So the entrepreneurs were leaving France, and coming to England to set up shop.
We also saw countless groups of Muslim women, traveling, usually, in dense packs, fully garbed in black. But often, as the women would step up a curb, I'd get a surprising glimpse: under the nun-like habit, I saw more than one pair of sequined high heels.
I couldn't help but notice that England and the United Kingdom were dealing with far greater issues of immigration than anything in the United States. In our case, "immigration" mainly means the influx of Mexican workers, who speak just Spanish. But in the UK, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of people, every year, from all around the world, with a rich stew of languages and cultural traditions.
As I discovered later in Germany, not everybody speaks English, either. It's a humbling experience to try to negotiate a train schedule, or even order a sandwich, when my confident, "Bitte, sprechen Sie Englisch?" was met with a "Nee."
Educated people should speak at least three languages. I've got some work to do.
I also heard some interesting things about the United States from others. In particular, I was fascinated by the perspective of our Kurdish taxi driver (who escaped from Saddam Hussein's regime 16 years ago), and a former German police inspector, who now is my daughter's "foster dad" in Bremen. But that's another story.