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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation.

ALA correspondence goes to jlarue [at] ala [dot] org. Phone: 3 1 2 . 2 8 0 . 4 2 2 2
Please direct all other communications to jlarue [at] jlarue [dot] com. Phone: 7 2 0 . 5 3 0 . 4 2 9 4

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Talk to Aurora Police Department Leadership Forum

Today I gave one of my favorite talks -- about generations -- at the invitation of Chief Oates of the Aurora Police Department. My handout (an earlier version of it, anyhow) can be found here.

At first blush, there doesn't appear to be much similarity between police and libraries. Our cultures are very different. But I discovered several areas of common ground.

We are both public institutions, and since the 1960s, all public institutions have been under attack, under relentless disparagement, largely by members of the Boomer generation. Schools feel it, some libraries feel it. The police feel it. I once had a conversation with a banker who went on at some length about all that the private sector has done for the improvement of life. Much of this is true. But I told him, "on 9/11, there weren't a lot of stockbrokers and fund managers running up stairs to save people's lives."

I mean, let's face it. There is quite as much corruption in the private sector as the public. (Contrariwise, there are quite as many honorable people in both.) It may be worth thinking about this: when you tear down every public entity as a matter of course, without thinking, don't be surprised if good people (your children?) may not want to work for the public sector.

Who benefits from that?

And yet there are people in the police department who disparage the state; people in the state who disparage public education; people in public education who disparage libraries; people in libraries who undercut all of the above.

People! We are on the same side: the side of institutions funded by the general public to perform important, even vital tasks that the private sector disdains to touch. Why are we creating an environment in which it will be more difficult for all of us to do our jobs?

We have shared issues of recruitment. (Coincidence?) At least in Aurora, not as many people are responding to job postings for officer positions as have applied in the past. The problem: recruiters try to recruit the way they wish they'd been (or were) recruited. But different generations have different motives.

Here's an interesting tidbit. The all-volunteer military seems to hitting its quotas. Who hasn't been to see a movie in the past couple of months? And who, in the theater, hasn't seen at least one ad for the military?

I'm guessing it works like this. You hire an ad agency to produce a recruitment video. One of them shows a single person climbing a mountain. An Army of One.

One of them shows a group of young people, side by side with other young people, using high tech equipment to help people in trouble.

Then you watch the nearby recruitment stations to see which ads generate the most recruits. That's the one you distribute to more theaters.

It's called market research. Police departments don't do it. Neither do libraries.

According to my generational analysis, the second of the two ads should be more effective, if the target is Millenials -- kids who know how to collaborate, live in the high tech world, and want to do good.

We have shared issues of training. Does anyone believe that Boomers learn the same way as Gen-Xers, or Millenials? Yet innovation in the training department is about as common as in recruitment. (Although I would exempt the training department of my library, which is right on top of things.)

We have shared issues of hiring. We still, all too often, rely on people's description of their abilities, instead of their demonstration of those abilities.

We have shared issues of accountability. It's easy to let in the wrong person. It is very hard, and often very expensive, either to carry them, OR to get rid of them. I'm guessing, of course, that this particular problem is just as prevalent in the private sector.

In sum, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to give the long version of this talk (an hour and half, pushing two, with questions). And I salute my comrades in the police department.

My main lesson for the day is this: for several decades now, our society has been deliberately pulling apart every public institution we've got. It just might be time to start building them up again, thoughtfully, with an eye to the future.

I bet we'll need them.

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