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.
October 2, 2008 - it's a good life
I recently returned from the Illinois Library Association in Chicago, where I had the privilege of giving the keynote address. I was raised in that area and began my career there. So I had the chance to see a lot of old friends, colleagues, and early professional influences.
One of those influences was Dr. Fred Schlipf. Several decades ago now, I took an administrative practicum with him. He was then the director of the Urbana Free Library in downstate Illinois. Recently, he retired, although he still teaches at the university and does building consulting.
I showed up that morning, wearing my only tie (I was putting myself through grad school, and most of my clothes came from Salvation Army), and was told that Dr. Schlipf was in the children's room, downstairs. I went to join him. About halfway down the stairs, I realized that the previous night's rain had flooded the basement.
And there was Dr. Schlipf, jacket off, pants rolled up, a bucket in one hand and a mop in the other. He beamed at me: "Welcome to the administrative life!"
That's a pretty good introduction.
He also taught me something about how libraries should be run. He had me work a week in each department, learning what they all did. Then he asked me where I thought I'd seen any problems.
It wasn't in the "technical services department," where materials were ordered and processed. The backlog was 4 items, and they were a little embarrassed about that. (They got it cleaned up by the end of the hour.)
It wasn't in circulation, reference or children's (aside from the need for tighter seals on the walls, and a new pump). But there was a slight confusion of mission and practice in his local history area. Or so it seemed to me.
He asked me what I thought should be done about it. He asked, in fact, for a proposal. So I wrote one up.
Then he put me in charge of it. I got to call a series of meetings, work up agendas, and try to implement some changes. And I felt that working with his staff, we did just that.
That experience has served me in good stead through the years. To this day, I, too, value providing such "administrative practica" -- helping newcomers to the profession get a glimpse of the inner workings of an institution committed to excellence.
It not only brings a fresh set of eyes and perspective to our own issues, but it gives people the chance to see that change is not a wave of the magic wand; it's a process. It takes time, and tact, and persistence.
While in Chicago, I also got to have dinner with a woman I hired, years ago, as the supervisor of shelvers in Springfield's public library. She is, today, a library director herself, and her library won "Special Mention" in "the Best Small Library in America" competition this year. Her name is Ann Hughes, and her library is in Glen Carbon, Illinois.
It's an obligation of those who received mentoring that mattered to pass it along, although Ann never needed much mentoring.
I returned just in time to see Dave Barry's hilarious address for the Douglas County Libraries Foundation's first annual Author Extravaganza, the excellent work of Margie Woodruff, Elizabeth Huber, Jennifer Pavlik, Kristin Hayek, and many others, including a host of volunteers.
My point: there are a lot of wonderful libraries and librarians out there, making a difference in their communities. It's a good life.
LaRue's Views are his own.