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 5, 2007 - The Hollywood Librarian
I don't go to a lot of conferences. But I just came back from the annual American Library Association conference in Washington, D.C.
I was not alone. There were, by last estimate, over 27,000 librarians in the city. That's a lot of librarians.
But that might be one of the points of the conference. Did you know:
* there are more library outlets than there are McDonalds in this country?
* there are more annual visits to libraries than to all sporting events combined?
The sheer popularity of American libraries is an odd contrast to the persistent cultural images of librarianship. In fact, one of the reasons I attended the conference was to be there for the world premiere of a documentary, five years in the making, by a friend of mine, Ann Seidl. It was called, "The Hollywood Librarian."
"The Hollywood Librarian" began as a truly humorous look at the portrayal of librarians in film. Ann is a film buff, and had found not only the usual snapshots of librarians (Marian the librarian, Donna Reed in the alternate world in which Jimmy Stewart had never been born, the zany Parker Posey), but lots of other surprising ones.
The audience at the premiere -- and estimates of attendance vary between two and five thousand -- showed up in gowns and tuxes, strutting down the wide red carpet to enter the hall.
In the first part of the film, librarians laughed, whooping at the many ways film got us wrong -- and right.
But then, the film took on a life of its own. Ann started to find stories. One was about a salty and growly-voiced librarian in Connecticut who turned out to be the sister of a famous film star. (I won't spoil it by saying who.)
Another was the story of a Pennsylvania librarian whose work to bring a new library building to her small town was truly heroic.
Disclaimer: I'm in the film, too, mostly reminiscing about the first time I saw a bookmobile.
But there was one story that brought tears to my eyes. It began with the Salinas Public Library in California, the home town of John Steinbeck. After several failed attempts to win voter approval, the library ran out of money, and closed.
But that wasn't what got to me. It was the efforts of inmates in nearby San Quentin prison to raise money to get it open again.
One young man, involved in a transformative literacy program in jail, put it like this "How can you bolster spending in prisons and take away a library? It was a shameful act, heightened by the fact that an inmate saw it, and those in free society didn't."
After the film, Ann made an appeal that made a lot of librarians squirm. She doesn't want to release the film to some distributor. She wants to release it to libraries, an exclusive engagement around the nation.
She's fiercely proud of our profession, and wants the theatrical experience to be shared within our own buildings.
But that's not what made librarians squirm. She wants us to charge people to see it: $8 for adults, $5 for kids. One third of whatever is raised will go to the further distribution of the film (to ship it around the country, along with a PR package), one third to Ann's production company (she has made no money on the film to date), and one third to the host library.
Ask for money? Expect our patrons to put up less cash for a quality independent film than they would for a pizza, or pay-per-view pro wrestling?
Two of the most talked about films in recent years were also documentaries. Both were on unlikely topics. Global warming. Penguins. Both were big commercial successes.
Could it be time for a deeper look at yet another unexpected subject?
And do librarians have enough (take your pick) self-esteem or entrepreneurial spirit to ask for the price of admission?
P.S. Douglas County librarians do. Look for our release of the film at various of our branches between September 29 to October 6. We are confident that our patrons will greatly enjoy this alternately funny and fiery film.