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Caring for our leaders

One day I was visited by a gentlemen who worked for a non-profit in the Midwest. His organization had formed to address a recurrent problem. The pattern looked like this: A fantastic new leader showed up in the community. That meant the community was able to recruit good leaders! The new leader hit the ground running, quickly forming key connections, and tackling significant issues. The new leader, responding well to early challenges, became the go-to person for other challenges. Slowly, the new leader's plate got full. Then over-full. Then way over-full. Then the leader burned out. Maybe there was a half-hearted attempt to get away for a while--a vacation, a sabbatical. But more often, he or she just imploded. There were substance abuse issues, broken relationships, or some kind of community scandal. But the root problem wasn't any of those things. The problem was that the community saved up all their problems for the new person, then kept piling them on until something broke.
Recent posts

Public Trust and Patron Privacy

[on behalf of the Colorado Association of Libraries Future Interest Group] In a recent Youtube presentation on the public good, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich cited a startling statistic. Public confidence that government did the right thing all or most of the time fell from 71% in 1963 to 16% in 2016. That was before Donald Trump became president. Pick an institution–the church, the Supreme Court, public schools, Congress, television news–and the general trend seems pretty clear. Confidence in institutions is falling across the board. There are outliers, but after reviewing this Gallup report , I can’t help but wonder how America’s libraries are doing. Today we’re witnessing the greatest surge of book challenges since the founding of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom in 1967. Some of these campaigns are certainly coordinated, but it’s not always clear by whom. These challenges aren’t just against particular titles or themes (although most of them focus on books by or abou

New chapter: Garfield County Public Library District

As of May 2, 2022, I have the distinct privilege of being the Executive Director of the Garfield County (Colorado) Public Library District . This post is a kind of summary of my feelings about that. This marks a new chapter in my life, stepping back into public library administration under very different circumstances than before. I feel called to it. The Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys are extraordinarily beautiful. I have barely begun to explore the thousands of miles of trails in the area. I love it. The views. The air. And a more subtle life of sound and smell. Of water and wildlife. Natural beauty brings and keeps a lot of folks here. In my first three weeks on the job, I interviewed 51 of our 68 staff. Leadership begins with listening. They had a lot to say. They were thoughtful, insightful, and resilient. It's been a tough couple of years. Here's my takeaway: we're poised on the edge of greatness. The service ethic, the passion, the connection to community, i

Corrections to my quote

A few weeks ago, it turns out, I had walking pneumonia. Then I was contacted by a journalist for the Deseret Magazine for some comments about the sharp rise of book challenges across the country. In response to one of his questions, I said something that bordered on incoherence. That happens sometimes when you're quoted. (Maybe it happens more often when you have pneumonia.) I don't blame the author, who doublechecked the recording. I blame me. I conflated two things I think into one mismash that I don't. So I wanted to clarify my comments. I was trying to speak about two kinds of challenges: the ones that try to reduce the real horror of slavery and racism portrayed in Beloved by Toni Morrison to nothing more than "too sexy," and the ones that paint the whole of another work, The Little House in the Prairie books, for instance, as being comprehensively racist, when that isn't the point of those works, either. In the end, most censorship challenges are redu

Intellectual Freedom and Social Justice

After giving a couple of talks on this topic, I was invited to submit an article to the Texas Library Journal, which comes out today. I'm reposting it here.  Embedding professional values takes time, and grows from social context Professions are predicated on values. In 1892, the American Library Association (ALA) was guided by this modest motto: "The best books for the most people at the least cost."   In 1938, Des Moines Public Library director, Forrest Spaulding, noted that, "Today indications in many parts of the world point to growing intolerance, suppression of free speech and censorship affecting the rights of minorities and individuals." Among those indications was the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, and Stalin in the Soviet Union. Books under attack in Des Moines eventually included Mein Kampf (anti-Semitic) and Grapes of Wrath (communist). In response, Spaulding pitched a "Library's Bill of Rights" to his board. In 1939,

Storytelling as a path to funding

Ever since my days as a wandering poet, I've believed in the power of story.  As I was hitchhiking around the country, I once wandered into a biker bar in Phoenix. Being young, poor, and desperate, I asked the bartender if I could give a 45 minute poetry reading. In exchange, if I could hold the attention of the customers , could I have a pitcher of beer and a pizza? The bartender actually snorted. "You're going to read poetry to this crowd? This I gotta see!" I not only got my beer and pizza (after an hour of performance), I got lots of deeply insightful comments from the audience. I say this not because bikers have the souls of poets (some do!), but because I learned, as I knocked about and gave readings, that dense and deeply allusive verse (academic poetry) left most folks cold. What they wanted were  stories . So my poetry tended toward dramatic narratives. The closer I got to an authentic experience, the more it resonated.  The same is true of library stories.

elementary apps for writing

A few months ago, I installed the   elementary   OS (a Linux based distribution) on an old 2011 Mac. On the one hand, I had to fiddle with things some, as one does with Linux. But on the whole, the experience has been very positive. Computing can be fun.   The desktop environment (think Gnome or KDE or Mac or Windows) of elementary is called Pantheon. It has a very nice look to it, light and fast. It’s not Mac, but it’s Mac-like, meaning that it seeks mostly to get out of your way. Unlike many distros, elementary has its own AppCenter, where applications written for the environment are offered for sale, for modest sums. Or sometimes for free. Recently, I bought three of them that together make up a nice tool set, handy for the creation and elaboration of documents. That’s my primary interest in them. The first was   Minder , a mindmap program written by Trevor Williams. It was responsive and colorful. Pantheon, and elementary generally, leans toward the minimalist, easily l