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.
November 13, 2008 - test your civic engagement
A year ago, after the 2007 election, I did something I hadn't done before. I took a vacation, all by myself, to a place where I knew no one.
Last year, it was Milwaukee. I rented a cheap hotel room close to Lake Michigan. And I spent several days walking the shore, walking the city, walking and walking and walking.
When I got back, my wife asked me, "So whom did you talk to?" Usually when I travel I return with lots of stories. And that's when I realized that I really hadn't talked to anybody, other than to check into the hotel, or to order a meal.
I returned, I think, better than when I'd left. I had found my center. Sometimes you just need absolute quiet and physical release. You need solitude.
And if that's one side of the equation, here's another: civic engagement. I know that after the recent, interminable election process, no one wants to think about this.
But I ran across a fascinating chart on the Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) entry for "civic engagement." (I'll take up some other time the debate about whether or not Wikipedia, open to all for revision, can be considered a reliable source of information. Briefly, yes. It is not infallible. But neither is an encyclopedia.)
The article, as of November 1, 2008, spells out 19 objective measures. So here's a family exercise. Lay this out after dinner and give yourself a score -- how many of the following did you participate in over the past 12 months?
The 19 measures fall into three categories (with a few clarifying notions of my own in parentheses).
* community problem solving (trash pickup, recycling, latchkey kids)
* regular volunteering for a non-electoral organization
* active membership in a group or association
* participation in fund-raising run/walk/ride
* other fundraising for charity
* regular voting
* persuading others to vote
* displaying buttons, signs, stickers
* campaign contributions
* volunteering for candidate or political organizations
* contacting officials
* contacting the print media
* contacting the broadcast media
* email petitions
* written petitions
* boycotting (avoiding products because of their political affiliations)
* buycotting (selecting products because of their political affiliations)
* canvassing (direct contact with people, handing out flyers, etc.)
I find these to be very clever and precise measures of what is also called "social capital." The idea is simple. The more people who are "connected" to their communities, the healthier both the people and the communities are liable to be.
"Health" isn't just vagueness. There are fewer crimes, less disruption to life and property. People are literally healthier. They have fewer doctor visits. They live longer.
Numerous studies have found that if you want to improve the quality of your life both mentally and physically, the best strategy is greater engagement with the lives of those around you.
By your choices the community is made, or undone. These are some of the measures.
LaRue's Views are his own.