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.
February 21, 1996 - Community Networks
It happens that I'm near-sighted -- possibly the result of too much reading under haphazard lighting. (Listen to your mothers, children!)
Far away, I see just fine -- with glasses. But for the past few months, especially in the evening, my eyes play tricks on me. I have to take off my glasses to read something right in front of me. I have to put on my glasses to see somebody across the table. It's a matter, I'm told, of the changing focal length of older eyeballs.
The World Wide Web is another example. I have e-mail correspondents scattered across the globe. On the other hand, local information, local news, what's going on in my own back yard -- is of great interest to me, too.
The rollicking growth of the Internet pulls my professional, librarian eye toward the horizon. But the surprising depth of local information tugs my gaze closer.
So what's a librarian to do? Work on a comprehensive collection of planet-wide resources? Or try to build an organized overview of the local data neighborhood?
As usual, it's not an either-or proposition. The right answer is, "Both." Physiologically, psychologically, and professionally, it's a good idea to vary your focus every now and then.
In other columns, I've talked about how to connect through your local library to larger resources. This week, I'd like to talk about attempts to organize more regional information.
Here's a good question: Just what DO you need to know, locally? Well, the News Press does a good job of this in its annual publication, "Guide to Douglas County."
You can look up the names, addresses, and principals of local schools. You can get the name and phone numbers of elected officials. You can find out where to register your car.
But the problem with printed directories is that much of the information in them is out of date almost immediately. And as good as "The guide to Douglas County" is, it doesn't have everything.
So over the past several weeks, library staff has been doing two things.
First, we've taken some of our old approaches to local information and put a new spin on them. One of these is something we call the "Community Information Referral" files -- a collection of records describing the various civic, social service, and non-profit organizations serving the citizens of Douglas County. This information has for 5 years now been an integral part of the library's catalog. It's proved very useful for library staff (who may need to quickly determine the name of the local Rotary Club president, or get the phone number of Colorado Representative Jeanne Adkins). It's a flexible and powerful tool for tracking down local data.
But as near as I can figure, nobody ELSE used it. We designed the system to be especially useful to social service agencies. But a tool that requires you to dial into a library catalog (meaning you have the computer, modem, phone line, and time to do all this) isn't especially convenient for people who are striving mightily to solve what is usually a crisis. What they need (I think) is two things: powerful searching tools, yes, but also the ability to generate their own comprehensive, up-to-date print-outs, without a lot of extra steps.
So our latest automation experiment -- library "home pages" -- will still let you search for data on-line. But it will also let you print it all out, or grab the whole file to your own computer, where you can edit it, THEN print it. Not only that, we're going to make it available as a text file: you bring us a disk, we'll get you the data. You say you don't have a computer at all? Statistically, you're in the minority in Douglas County. But even then -- we're thinking about doing an annual printed directory.
It turns out that this process of taking a text file and turning it into a World Wide Web page is really pretty easy. Over the next couple of months, the library will be trying to work with others to build an electronic community network. Some of the people we're talking to include the county, the school district (which is about to bring up its own WWW site, in conjunction with the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce), the towns of Castle Rock and Parker, the League of Women Voters, and even your local newspaper.
The idea is to make it possible to make a "virtual visit" to any one of these places, and find a set of logical, well-thought-out links to all of the other sources of information. Of course, we\'ll also have links to the rest of the web. I think of it like this: Your community network -- the network with bifocals.