For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
January 10, 2008 - Who Are We?
Every now and then, I think it prudent to let the readers of this column know what the library is and what it stands for.
The Douglas County Libraries is an independent library district, established by the voters of Douglas County in 1990. Its boundaries are identical to those of the county itself. The vast majority of library funding comes from a property tax (of four mills per year), also established by county voters. In 2008, annual library revenues will be just over $21 million.
The library is governed by a 7 member Board of Trustees, who are appointed by the County Commissioners to represent the three commissioner districts. Beyond that appointment, however, the County has no other say in the funding or operation of the library.
We have the following service locations: the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, the Highlands Ranch Library, the Lone Tree Library, the Louviers Library, the Parker Library, and the Roxborough Library. We also have a bookmobile that visits Castle Pines North, and a sprinkling of other neighborhoods.
We have a pick-up point through the good graces of the Cherry Valley Elementary School. Thanks to generous underwriting by IREA, we also offer a books by mail program to our patrons in Deckers.
These facilities house our ever-expanding collection of materials (books, magazines, movies, and music). At this writing, all of our libraries together own 729,981 items -- a little over 2 per county resident.
Our facilities also provide for a jam-packed schedule of library programs, including everything from storytimes for very young children, to book discussion groups for grown-ups, and everything in between. The library also hosts literally hundreds of free community meetings every month.
In addition to these bricks and mortar locations, we have an impressive online presence: www.douglascountylibraries.org. With your Douglas County Libraries card you can manage your library account, and unlock a host of powerful databases. Those databases allow you either to do your homework online, or conduct surprisingly in-depth community or business research, all 24/7. If you get stuck, we offer online reference assistance, where you can ask for help from real live humans.
What is our purpose? The job of the modern public library is simply expressed: we gather, organize, and present to the public the intellectual resources of our culture.
"Intellectual resources" means all of those books, magazines, movies, music, and electronic resources I mentioned above -- but not just that. It includes our smart, capable staff, whose combined expertise is staggering. We employ a little over 330 people, and their service ethic and intelligence is the foundation of our reputation and effectiveness.
The glory of the public library -- and along with Denmark and Finland, nobody does it better than the United States -- is that we are highly optimized to respond to individual inquiry. We don't push any agenda. We don't have a curriculum. We reflect the chaos and contradictory perspectives of (mainly) the nation -- but with enough information from and about the rest of the world to remind us that we are not alone.
At the public library, even the youngest and the poorest have equal access to the great conversation of the human species. Knowledge is indeed power, and the library -- as the premiere advocate for literacy in our society -- is the bootstrap we use individually and collectively to lift ourselves from ignorance.