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.
March 6, 1996 - Computers in Libraries Conference
I've spent the past week at a conference called Computers in Libraries. I was at the very first one of these 11 years ago. Back then, almost 400 people showed up, from all over the country.
This year, there were over 2000.
Unlike most of the conferences I go to, I didn't know a lot of the people. It's not the sort of gathering that pulls in directors and journalists. Most of the people are the foot soldiers of the information age -- the reference librarians and media center supervisors and computer technicians. So instead of a lot of high-falutin' philosophy, they talk nuts and bolts. They come to the conference because there are things they need to find out about.
And in general, what DO they need to know? Based on the presentations, they need to know about the World Wide Web.
Here's the good news: librarians, it turns out, are really very good at organizing information. Some of them seemed to be surprised at this: some dazzlingly well-thought-out web pages were trotted out by state library staff and librarians. You could see the eyes popping, followed by a hasty scribbling of the Internet address, followed by a thoughtful look that meant, "Hmm. I could do that."
They will, too.
The bad news: it wasn't until the last day of the conference that some of the speakers tried to put this in perspective -- just where does automation fit in the larger scheme of library services? I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that my job was to talk about what is "too fast" for the patron.
Here's what I said. I think most of our patrons fall into one of four main categories.
1. "The library will never be too fast for me." (I actually got this as an e-mail message from a patron. And he's probably right.)
2. "It's not too fast if I don't HAVE to use it." Another echoed: "The first time, it was sort of interesting when a staff member showed me how to look something up. But the second time, it WASN\'T interesting. When I call a plumber, he doesn't make me look at his wrenches." A third person drove the point home: "If these computers make your job easier, great! As long as the reference librarian will still find it for me! And smile!"
3. Here's a different take. "I went to one of your computer classes, and loved it," said one woman. "But the next week, the whole screen was different. Once I get it figured out, don't change it."
4. Finally, here's a similar response from someone playing at our Internet station. "There's too much. Can't you just highlight the things that are useful?" This comment highlights the need for what librarians traditionally do best: identify credible resources, then make it easy to find them.
My staff, incidentally, was terrified when they heard I was going to this conference. They were afraid I'd get hyped up and launch us into yet another wild endeavor.
But ultimately, here's what I learned:
Based on circulation statistics and public surveys, it's clear to me that our patrons still prefer a physical, rather than a virtual, place, and they still want an object -- a children's picture book, a non-fiction title, an adult fiction title, a video, or an audio, in that order. I would predict that this general pattern of use will endure for some time -- as long as we continue to give our patrons a choice.
That doesn't mean that we won't continue to offer a good mix of new resources. Right now, all of our automation expenditures accounts for about 3% of our annual expenditures. And that strikes me as just about right.