On January 10, the library Board of Trustees and senior staff met to set a course for the future. In three hours, we adopted a refocused mission and vision statement, reviewed our financial status and goals, and finally, adopted some specific plans for the next three to five years.
Over the next three weeks, I'd like to cover those issues in more detail.
First (this week), what does the library stand for?
Second (next week), what is our financial status in these troubled times?
Third (two weeks from now), what does our mission direct us to do to respond to our budget issues? To put it more positively: what are our plans?
At the beginning of last year's campaign season, I attended a fundraiser. It was for a good local man, running for an important office. I put more of my own money into the little basket than I ever had before for a politician.
Then I had a chance to chat with him, along with some of his other supporters.
After a while, he said he had to make a little speech to the party faithful. And what he said astonished me.
Almost the first words out of his mouth were along the lines of "Of course we all know that government is incompetent and inefficient." He then went on to praise the can-do efficiency of the business world. Remember that this was just at the time we were learning about the lending crisis, and a host of other private sector misjudgments, over-reachings, and dubious ethics.
I couldn't help but notice that I had just paid this guy to insult me. Working for an independent library district is working for government. As it happens, I'm proud of that work. And I put the library's efficiency, competence, and integrity up against any organization's, public or private.
"Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." - John Kenneth Galbraith
Isn't it the truth? Every single one of us has held onto strategies that have been clearly demonstrated not to work. Women trapped in situations with abusive men finally get themselves out -- only to immediately hook up with another one.
Business owners persist in plans that focus firmly on a long-gone past (think the American automobile industry) or demonstrate the most incredibly cynical and short-sighted greed (subprime lending, for instance).
Politicians -- whether it's fostering Great Society welfare dependency, or proclaiming the gospel of market deregulation up to, and right past, the point of public health or industry collapse -- just can't accept the fact that negative results disprove really bad ideas.
Every day we find out that things we just know to be true, aren't true at all. And even though our erroneous premises cause us direct damage, we pull ourselves together and bravely ... stay the course.
Maybe if we just try harder... If we just BELIEVE...
Since way back in grade school, I've been enamored of the scientific method. The idea is that we are rational creatures, delighting in growing our understanding of the marvelous natural world.
True, we often start out with ideas that are a little looney. They don't fit the facts. But that's the whole point of the scientific method: you frame a hypothesis to explain some phenomenon, then you test it. If the hypothesis is wrong, you throw it out the window and come up with one that does a better job of standing up to the evidence.
It's a powerful thing. Using the scientific method, we have pushed back the darkness of human ignorance, and made incomparable gains in everything from our own ability to survive, to remarkable works of civilization.
I've also long been a fan of science fiction. What young person -- or any person of imagination -- wouldn't want to sail out into space on the starship Enterprise?
But there are frontiers that are closer to home: the study of our own brains.