I have been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1987.
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 17, 2008 - Where Are We Going?
Last week, I talked about who we are and what we stand for. This week I'd like to focus on where we're going.
Despite the hysterical predictions of pundits that the book is dead,
that public places are obsolete, and that everything can be found for free through Google, the plain truth is this:
• according to the numbers, the main thing we do here at the Douglas County Libraries is check stuff out, and most of that stuff is print. Last year, we checked out almost a million more items than the year before. Call me crazy, but a growth rate of 18% seems pretty lively.
• the next thing we do is welcome visitors. Our gate counters approached 2 million in 2007 . I wonder how busy we'd be if we weren't obsolete?
• the third most popular use of the library is online. The library spends over a quarter of a million dollars annually for topnotch commercial information. These sources were used hundreds of thousands of times last year by Douglas County home schoolers , entrepreneurs, family historians, car mechanics, hobbyists, and our own reference librarians.
Did I mention that NONE of those data conduits is tapped by Google? The choice isn't print or electronic , free or commercial. It's both.
So I'm not just making things up here: the future of the public library looks bright to me.
But where, specifically, is the library going? What stays the same? What's new?
The same: books. Well, let me rephrase that. Once upon a time, we bought books. Now, we've learned to buy books that get used. A lot. We've also gotten pretty sharp about using displays to push those books . There was a time that we could keep things on the shelf that went out just once every couple of years. We don't have room for that any more.
Two years ago maybe 25% of our collection was checked out at any given moment. In 2007, some of our libraries hit 50%.
The same: smart staff. No, it's better than that. Even smarter staff. We've put machines in the back room so we can put our people out front, people who really know what we've got, and have the time to help you find it.
The same: music and movies. New: as time goes on, you'll see more downloadable or streaming options.
The same: free community meeting space. New: more tools to search and book that space. Also new: displays of materials that follow you into those meetings, and directly relate to your interests.
The same: a rich electronic catalog. New: a catalog that does a better job of integrating dissimilar kinds of data. For instance, if you search for the subject of "autism" you should get not only all the things we can check out to you (books, movies, and music), and not only articles from our electronic medical journals, but also programs or meetings on the topic -- and maybe contact information for local speakers or experts.
I have two more ideas that I'll take up in the next couple of weeks: tools for would-be authors, and the importance of the library in something that needs a whole lot more attention in Douglas County -- civic engagement.