Showing posts from December, 2016

The fundamental dignity of human inquiry

Years ago, I came up with this phrase to describe why libraries matter: they are institutions dedicated to the recognition and support of the fundamental dignity of human inquiry.

Curiosity is responsible for all the real gains in the quality of human life. What causes disease, and how can we prevent it? How can we build comprehensive and sustainable systems to deliver clean water and energy, to move goods and services to markets, or to educate the young? Human beings ask questions, and in the fearless pursuit of answers, they can find their way to the things that make human life enduring and worthwhile.

That end - a life in which people are free to explore the universe around them, to stand unafraid, to build rather than blunder and destroy their way through their days, to live with dignity and purpose - requires at least three things.

First, we must have the freedom to express what we know or think we know. This is what we mean by “free speech” -- the right to think, say, and write …

Hate speech

My daughter lives in Berlin, with her German national husband. Germany has something called Volksverhetzung, which translates to “incitement of hatred.” Here, we would call it hate speech. In Germany, it’s illegal.

According to Wikipedia, “the law requires that said speech be ‘qualified for disturbing public peace’ either by inciting ‘hatred against parts of the populace’ or calling for ‘acts of violence or despotism against them,’ or by attacking ‘the human dignity of others by reviling, maliciously making contemptible or slandering parts of the populace.’”

Many Germans are wary of hate speech. Hate speech preceded Nazism. It’s not unreasonable to suppose that the more frequently people hear attacks on some group, the more likely eventual violence against them might be.

Such laws are not unique to Germany. In the aftermath of World War II, similar laws were adopted in many nations in Europe, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, Africa, India, Asia, and Australia.

In the United States, th…

Huck Finn and the intelligence of minors

When my daughter was 14 years old, she wrote a paper for school about an old controversy: complaints about the novel "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." It was so good, I persuaded her to submit it to the Colorado Libraries magazine -- and they accepted it. It came out in Fall, 2002, v28 no3.
Huck Finn is in the news again, most recently in Accomac VA, where, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, a parent is seeking to have the books entirely removed from a school. The incident reminded me of my daughter's essay - and I reprint it below because I think she nailed the issues. Maddy's essay, to me, is proof that of course minors should be allowed to read anything they can understand - and they understand plenty. They are certainly up to the challenge of reading American classics.
================= River Banksby Madeleine LaRue

If you squint your eyes, and look real close, you might see that shape out there on the river. See it? It's just on the horizon, and from here it …

Max's first storyboard: a Halloween Story

My son is now wrapping up his undergraduate degree in digital design. These days, his work is very sophisticated. But even when he was still in elementary school, he had that eye for telling image.

For instance, here's a little storyboard he did on index cards, in pencil. It's a funny narrative. But what amazes me is that he was able to capture real emotion and intent in just a few lines. He clearly delineated panic, dismay, determination, bravery, utter deflation (when his hair goes from up to down), fear, and more. I wish I could tell you what year it was. I want to say that he was in fourth grade. I love it, and particularly that he described noticing something by saying that he "heard it with my o[w]n eyes." He was visually oriented even for sound.

Oh, and what was the problem, really? A little colony of mice got into the kitchen. It took us several months to catch them all.


One of the graphics I've used through the years is called the "pyramid diagram." I've also called it "chasing the library patron." It presents an image that shows how to build the market share of libraries, expressed as a percentage of households with an active library card. Here's the image (and clicking on it makes it bigger):

(This uses the now defunct Douglas County Libraries logo, which I quite liked.)

The basic idea is the base of the pyramid is what most public libraries in America do: open their doors, and offer a collection, reference services, a children's program, public classes and workshops, computers, and meeting space. In exchange, about 30-50% of the service area households will find them, often without any further efforts. (And usually because of early childhood experience with the library.)

The next level is Public Relations, in which libraries get their branding act together, send out graphically consistent messages to their commu…

Huck Finn, again

I spoke Friday at the Oak Park Public Library. They were having a staff development day (from about 8 a.m.-2 p.m.). My topic was Intellectual Freedom.

Among other things, I talked about the history of the Library Bill of Rights. It was created in 1938 by Forrest Spaulding, then director of the Des Moines Public Library. I've written elsewhere about some of the parallels of that time to today.

When I finished my talk, I got a couple of interview requests from the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times. The issue was Accomac, Virginia, where a parent called for the removal from school curriculum and library both the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Why? Because of the presence of what would now be considered racial slurs.

On the one hand, I was sitting in the one time home town of Ernest Hemingway, who said, "“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was …

Broken links

So I've merged my blog and my website. Many of these older entries (which I'm combing through) refer to things on the web that yield nothing.

Newer bloggers know this: put the content in the post, not as a reference. So I apologize to folks who look for scintillating content that just ain't there no more. As of today, I am smarter. (You take your wins as you can.)