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.
December 29, 2006 - Toward a National Library Agenda
To some people, an "agenda" has sinister overtones. Our enemies have agendas; our friends just have plans.
But the idea of a "national agenda" does have political overtones, particularly when held in our nation's capital.
So what kinds of things are librarians wanting to push?
I think most folks would be pleased. I hope so.
After a lengthy brainstorming session, we came up with about 6 or 7 broad areas. Ideas were further refined in small groups. Here are some samples:
* "Save Our Stories." The vision here was of the public library as repository of our many, personal and collective memories. Once, history was created through a painstaking preservation and review of the written record -- letters, diaries, speeches. Who will now collect today's emails, blogs, and other forms of digital -- and surprisingly transient -- content? If libraries, HOW?
* "Libraries Mean Business." This was the topic I chose to work with. The fastest growing sector of the American economy is small business. Often, libraries serve as business incubation centers: providing the raw information needed to create business plans, to research opportunities or obstacles, providing the free space to meet with potential partners or clients. Too, many municipal planning departments are starting to grasp the value of a mix of civic and private uses to build economic diversity and vitality: the library as anchor store. How can we take both of these trends to the next level?
* "Libraries Make Citizens." At many moments in American history, the nation's libraries have served the vital role of orientation. During the huge population disruptions before and during World War II, libraries provided immigration centers in New York, for instance, helping newcomers learn English, and begin to understand what American citizenship means. Immigration continues. Is our only response to consist of bristling borders and surprise arrests? And it's not only immigrants who need help. Recent studies have shown that our native born citizens are often shockingly ignorant of many basic facts about how the United States is supposed to work. We're not just talking about grade school children. What role might libraries play in the fostering of what used to be known as "civics?"
* "Family literacy." Libraries value reading. But expecting children to learn to love reading in school, is like waiting for them to learn to love talking then, too. What can libraries do to encourage families to build habits and skills that will REALLY ensure that no child is left behind?
There was, I think, an underlying theme to all these discussions. To my mind, that theme was about the dire necessity for public libraries to engage with their communities. Libraries are an oft-overlooked community asset, one more tool to put on the table to make towns and cities better places to live. Libraries that "get" that make a difference, and are valued in return.
The biggest problem I see is that we had too MANY ideas. At some point, really effective action is about concentration on just a few clear objectives.
I admired the leadership initiative of Leslie Burger, current president of the American Library Association. Whittling things down to what matters is a daunting task.
Meanwhile, it looks like there's enough to keep a librarian busy in 2007.