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Are libraries neutral?

Here are my remarks at today's American Library Association Midwinter Conference. Jim Neal's Presidential Program was "Are libraries neutral?" I was first on the "pro" side of the debate.

In 1938, a time with an eery resonance to today, some citizens in Des Moines, Iowa protested a book we would now call hate speech: Hitler's Mein Kampf. Director Forrest Spaulding drafted "A Library's Bill of Rights" to establish for the first time the library's endorsement of intellectual freedom -- the right to access even uncomfortable or offensive content. Maybe, Spaulding said, we needed to know what was going on in the world.

In 1939, ALA Council approved the statement for the entire association.

Implicit in intellectual freedom is the principle of neutrality.

Let me make two things clear.

Neutrality does not mean that librarians have no values. We do. It doesn't mean that institutions don't exist to advance certain goals. Libraries activ…

Evaluating the board

Two persistent topics for public library boards and directors is the performance assessment. I have already posted about the director evaluation here. This post is about a self-assessment for public boards, based on a cooperative effort between the Arapahoe Public Library District and Douglas County Libraries some ten years ago.




Chicago alley

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Snapped this yesterday.


Becoming Skippy

Back when I was a teenager, around 16 or so, my friends and I would go to the roller rink. We'd skate around and listen to Motown songs. The person who skated around with us, supervising, was a guy who called himself Skippy.

Skippy was, I guess, 25-30. He was older, to give him that aura of authority. But there was something a little off about him. He had Elvis hair. By that I mean he had an elaborately combed and lightly greased pompadour. You just knew that this was the hair he had wanted to have when he was in high school. Back then, he didn't get to.

At the time, I, like a lot of boys, wanted to look like the Beatles. I didn't get to.

But Skippy, at that moment, could finally look the way he thought was cool. It just wasn't all that cool any more.

Well, a couple of years ago I was walking through an airport and I noticed that I was the only guy in the terminal with long hair. I was washing my hands in an airport restroom and, looking in the mirror, realized, "…

Graceland Cemetery: Women of Influence

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The days was clear-skied and lovely, with just a little chill in the air. I decided I haven't been taking advantage of my Chicago Architecture Foundation membership, so jumped on the Red Line up to Addison, then got connected to their tour of the Graceland Cemetery.

I'm afraid I've already forgotten our marvelous docent's name. The last name might have been Hoag. (I may have conflated this with a name I saw on a tombstone: Uriah Hair. I thought, hmm, take away the first U and you have a palindrome, and what are the odds of that?) She was, like all the docents, knowledgeable and deeply enthusiastic. She's been a docent for 10 years, and has a little badge that said she had won Outstanding Volunteer, and it doesn't surprise me.

We walked through not only a cemetery, but an arboretum, where once, our docent told us, people left the bustle of the city to take their families up to what was then a rural spot. It was a spring day, with everything coming awake. She said…

Pizza diaries: Coalfire

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After my Chicago Architecture Tour of Women of Influence (a Graceland Cemetery Walking tour,) I searched out Coalfire, a craft pizza place at 3707 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60613, not far from Wrigley Field.

The verdict? Pretty darn good. The crust was thin, but had a pleasant chewiness. The sausage was sweet and minced. The white mounds you see were whipped ricotta. What else? Red peppers, garlic. And a nut brown ale, which went very well with it.

The only pizza sizes were 14", so I brought half of it home. I'd go there again.

The First Amendment and Religious Liberty

Yesterday, Trump was rumored to be considering signing a "religious liberty" executive order enabling sweeping exemptions on basic civil liberties. Today, it appears that he's just trying to overturn the Johnson Amendment. 501 (c) (3) organizations, as well as churches and universities, don't have to pay taxes; in exchange, they're not allowed to promote or oppose a particular political candidate. Trump seems to feel that restricting churches from endorsing candidates is a matter of both free speech and religious liberty. The Founders would have disagreed.

What's the problem with having specific candidate endorsements from churches?
Churches don't pay taxes, and don't do any financial accounting. What's to stop unscrupulous PACs from laundering money through churches to fund particular candidates? If churches can support candidates, then they should have to report their income. Otherwise, your church is for sale - and you'll never know who boug…