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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. See "About Me" for contact information.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

coyote jawbone




amid the bottles
cans and trash by roadside
coyote jawbone


[At least it looks more canine than feline, but I don't know for sure. Does anyone else out there? The jawbone is exactly 5 inches from one end to the other. The haiku works as a poem, I think, even if my animal physiology is off.]

koalas on sticks


I think of cattails as something common to my home town of Waukegan. I was surprised to see them in Taos. And I was especially surprised to see one stand of them in full bloom. I wrote this haiku.

sometime last night
desert cattails exploded
koalas on sticks

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Mexico haiku

I'm on vacation in Taos. On the beautiful drive down, I had a series of haiku moments. Writing haiku makes life worthwhile.

lone dark pinon
new mexico mesa
and sky

Which goes from focus to field. And here's one that goes the opposite direction:

mountain snow dust
stirs golden valley into
herd of pronghorns

And here's one that's just about how nature reclaims what man makes:

white mountain road
snow snaking parallel
to river below

And just before I stopped for lunch, I saw:

two crows feast
on bloody ball of meat:
table mesa

And on the long road south of Fort Garland:

beetle in the sand
long straight line between peaks
me on two lane road

And finally, flapping up from a field into the sun, against a backdrop of blinding snow-capped peaks:

until just now
I did not know that ravens
are made of light

Monday, November 10, 2008

Colorado Association of Libraries conference 2008

I enjoyed the conference, and was particularly grateful to see a couple of my Board members show up and participate. One of the reasons many librarians give for enjoying their work is the sense of collegiality. I certainly enjoyed presenting with Rochelle Logan, Diane Caro, Jody Howard on "Books We Hate." And I had a marvelous time with my fellow directors, Shirley Amore (Denver) Jon Walker (Pueblo), Eloise May (Arapahoe), Janine Reid (High Plains), and Pam Sandlian Smith (Rangeview) in our session with young/new professionals looking for jobs.

The directors all have their own quirks and emphases. But in the main, we share a lot of common approaches: we're looking to make a difference in our communities, to be a significant asset, to strive for excellence, to be effective advocates for literacy and lifelong learning, and not least to have fun. Those themes ran through the keynote by Chicago's Mary Dempsey, Colorado Commissioner of Education Dwight Jones, ALA President Jim Rettig.

I also enjoyed John Finn's talk "Men Feared Witches and Burned Women" on intellectual freedom, as well as awards presentations for intellectual freedom and more. We have a lot of heroes in our profession, and it's good to take notice of them.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

2008 election results and the library

Now to report the results of the library's 2008 mill levy campaign: We lost.

As of today's still unofficial tally, we got 55,394 yes votes (47% of the total cast) and 62,442 no votes (53%). So we lost by over 7,000 votes. The school district's issue went down by about the same percentages.

I find myself surprisingly light-hearted about it. I truly don't think this reveals some secret disgruntlement with either institution. I think it's clear that our community was worried about the economy, and is hunkering down.

It's also clear that when you lose by 7,000 votes, there isn't much you could have done that would have won. The community has spoken.

But I have two other thoughts.

First, here's a bit of very good news. I have witnessed the birth of several new civic leaders, most of them folks who had never participated in the political process much before, but revealed themselves to be tireless organizers, and passionate and articulate speakers on our behalf. It was more than a privilege to work with them; it was a revelation.

Second, it's worth noting that in a few communities in Colorado, despite the economy, some public sector funding measures did pass. So it's not just the economy at work here. It is also the culture of Douglas County. And in brief, this remains one of the anti-tax centers of the state.

So I've got some choices: accept it, find another community, or stay and work to change this one. My son's in high school, so that's at least three more years. Why not have some fun?

I've written before about OCLC's "From Awareness to Funding" report; it nailed a lot of things. My library is one of the most heavily used in the nation. We know how to grow that. But we have never -- except around this past couple of years of elections -- focused on demonstrating our value.

Meanwhile, some of the so-called "conservative" voices in our county hammer away on a series of messages: taxes are by definition bad, government is by definition incompetent and not to be trusted, free market capitalism can do no wrong, etc..

Now that the election is over, I find myself feeling liberated. I want to tackle these attitudes, these premises, head on. Because I believe that they are (a) false and (b) truly destructive to our communities.

Obama's election represents a clear repudiation of the policies, foreign and domestic, that led us into so many failures. What most folks haven't yet worked out is that those policies were based on precisely the premises that they still consider axiomatic: e.g. "tax burden." I heard Bob Schaefer (who lost to Udall) say on the radio, "Republicans aren't wrong about these issues." But oh yes they are. The evidence is all around us.

Ideas are powerful. They have consequences. And if the consequences suck, then you need new ideas. You need to change your mind.

So my library needs to revamp its publicity and marketing messages to strengthen our community's understanding of just what we contribute. We need to emphasize not just use, but value -- and all year long, not just when we're going to the voters for more money.

We need to raise up advocates for our value within the organization, and recruit and deploy outside advocates.

Finally, we need to call out and clarify the ideas that lead to stronger communities, and directly confront the premises that erode our communities.

I think it sounds like fun.

So we'll launch a new planning process next year to re-imagine our library from the ground up, to live within our means until we have a new and more compelling story to tell our community. That sounds like fun, too. As I told my staff, a yes vote would have meant that we were the number one library in the county in two years. We will still do that; it will just be a little harder and take a little longer.

See also Invictus by William Ernest Henley.