The purpose of this "blog" is to make my essays that have been
published online accessible in one place. Current essays are on
top and older pieces farther down, though they are not presented
in strict chronological order. The postings or "blog archive" list
serves as a kind of index. Since most of my essay links were posted
at once in May of 2009, click "2009" under the blog archive column
and a list of essays will appear. Each essay is briefly described and a
link provided.

My formative writing experiences were as a grassroots organizer
and activist in campaigns to make polluters accountable. I wrote
newsletters, pamphlets, press releases, op-ed pieces, and statements
to be read at hearings, debates, and panel discussions. I did hundreds
of interviews for outlets as diverse as NPR, CBS, BBC, and CNN.

During this time I was also a library manager and administrator.
Although one might not suspect so, the role of the librarian and
the role of the activist share much in common. Effective activists
provoke public dialog. Effective librarians invite such dialogue.
Although they employ different methods, the ends are the same.

Eventually, I wrote two books about my political adventures,
Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West (Verso,
1999) and Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the
American Land(Island/Shearwater, 2004).

We spent the last two centuries learning how Nature can create wealth.
We will spend the next century learning how Nature creates health.
Ultimately, as we learn to live in reciprocal and sustainable
relationship with the ecosystems that sustain us, we will replace
the cultural language of wealth that both expresses and guides our
behavior today with a new language of health.

I am not talking here about mere words. I mean the way we see the
world, the way we express our values, and the way we make choices
together. The difference between those two ways of seeing and being
in the world are profound.

Wealth says more; health says enough.
Wealth says accumulate;
health says flow. Wealth says compete and win; health says
reciprocate, integrate, reconcile. Wealth says manage and
measure; health says jam and dance. Wealth assigns value; health
assumes it. Wealth adds, subtracts, and divides; health makes whole.

To learn this new language, we begin by listening. When we translate
what we learn into behaviors, we are practicing what I call ecological
citizenship. Ultimately, the health of our natural/physical
environment is directly related to the vitality of our civic
environment. And if you dig deeper, environmental crises are
also about our disconnection from nature and from each other.
And so we confront not only entrenched powers and their
destructive interests, but a culture that enables us, even
encourages us, to think and feel and act as if we live apart from
nature. As I try to explain in the essays that follow, nature is
embedded in us as we are embedded in the ecosystems that sustain us.

Chip Ward

Saturday, May 30, 2009

What They Didn't Teach Us in Library School: The Public Library as an Asylum for the Homeless

This essay made more of an impact than any other I have written. A shorter version appeared in the L A Times when the full version appeared at From there it was re-published widely across the World Wide Web, reprinted in paper format here and there (including in Germany), and is widely cited and debated. I often do radio interviews after my essays are published - this one got me on "Talk of the Nation" on NPR. Martin Sheen quoted it in a speech and his son, actor-director Emilio Estevez, bought film rights and is working on a script for a movie based on the essay and related journal entires I gave him. I was offered book deals to write more on this and turned them down.

The purpose of writing the essay was to get closure by bearing witness to what I had experienced and learned. I wrote it while staying at the Mesa Refuge in Pt. Reyes as a guest of Peter Barnes. I didn't allow it to get published until I retired from my library career because I didn't want my colleagues to deal with any more controversy than I already created as an environmental advocate/activist. The names of homeless library users were changed to protect privacy.

The genesis of this one was very personal. As Asst. Director of the Salt Lake City Public Library, I dealt with chronically homeless people on a daily basis for six years. I learned a lot about the plight of the homeless and was frustrated that so many compassionate and well-informed friends knew so little about homelessness, namely that there are working poor people who become temporarily homeless and then there are chronically homeless people who live more or less permanently on the street. In my experience, most of those people are untreated mentally ill. Casting them out and onto the street is not only immoral, it is excedingly expensive and ineffective public policy.

The original title was "Outcasts Inside." It was often published as "How the Library Became the Heartbreak Hotel," Tom's over-title in the link below. I have linked it to the version where it originally appeared. My thanks to Tom Englehardt, legendary editor and personal mentor, for his help on making this one happen.


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