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 30, 2009 - libraries more than a phase
Recently I was chatting with a friend, who told me that there are 7 phases of life. I found it compelling.
These phases or transitions mark the passage from one state of being to another.
* birth. Where it all begins. (Or does it?)
* childhood. Few of us remember anything before the age of four or five. The end of infancy is the beginning of memory. Or it may be the other way around.
* puberty. These first stirrings of sex herald adulthood.
* adulthood. At this threshold, formal schooling is done. One begins a work career, or otherwise joins the grown-up world.
* family. This might involve spouses and children. But at a deeper level, this is about establishing important and enduring relationships, in which someone other than you is nurtured and supported.
* retirement/empty nest. The formal work years are done. The children are gone.
* death. Where it all ends. (Or does it?)
Part of me wants to structure the arc of a life around the notion of values.
It looks like this: we receive values (through childhood), we test values (adolescence), we apply values (in work and early adult life), we transmit values (as parents and mentors), and just possibly, we transcend values (as questing seniors).
There's a library connection to all of this. (Surprise!)
It just might be that the real and true significance of my venerable institution is this: we're there.
That is, the public library is there for you, with a host of customized offerings, for everybody, at any and every phase of your life.
There are a happy few of us who established a habit of library use as children, and continued through the rest of our days. We are well familiar with the regular offerings of the the public library.
But for a significant percentage of the population, that habit never got formed. What, then, is the value of the library to them?
I think there are two.
First, the library as an institution assembles the public around activities that promote the public good: literacy, lifelong learning, civic engagement, and culture. Together, libraries encourage our communities to be both more civilized and more interesting.
Second, no matter how together you may feel, the odds are good that at least one of these big life transitions -- or the many smaller transitions that occur within them (such as a job change or health crisis) will catch you offguard. You won't feel quite equipped to deal.
And there we are: with books and databases and programs on healthy pregnancy (to deal with those before-birth issues), on early brain development, on support for education, on the issues of young adulthood, on career planning, on rearing your children and relationships, on retirement, and on estate planning (for those after-death issues).
Or it could be that our main contribution in such times of stress is simple escape. Overwhelmed by life? You need ... a western! A mystery! A romance!
What was once "a nice thing to have" now becomes absolutely essential to navigating a time of profound transformation in your life. And you don't have to do anything weird to access it: we're already a part of your community, with people trained to guide you quickly and confidentially to the sources that make a difference.
The public library: it's not just a phase. It's for all the phases of our all too complicated lives.
LaRue's Views are his own.