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.
July 10, 1996 - Survey Coming Up
As I've mentioned here before, the library has been working on its long range plan. Our various committees have been coming up with some questions they'd like to ask the public.
This is to put you all on notice that about a thousand of you may get a phone call sometime in the next month. Tagged onto the end of another survey will be some questions about the library. I hope you'll take the time to answer them. Teaming up with another market research effort enabled us to get an amazing break on our costs, and we really do want to know what you think about these items.
Asking questions is a tricky business. To make sure that we'd picked some good ones, I invited Keith Lance and Julie Boucher of the Library Research Office of the Colorado State Library to come down and talk to us. Both of them are number junkies. They're responsible for gathering, tallying, and analyzing the statistics turned in by every public library in the state.
At first, Dr. Lance's perspective shocked me. He tried to talk us out of doing a survey at all. Surveys, he said, are expensive. He emphasized that before we went to all the trouble of designing questions, gathering data, and then trying to make sense of it, we might want to find out if we already had the data we needed.
An astonishing amount of patron data is available in census information, or through local planning departments. Library computers also do a good job of collecting useful facts: how many people have a library card, how often they use it, where they live, and what (in the aggregate) they check out. Taken together, these sources of information can provide a wealth of knowledge.
Dr. Lance stressed another point. Often, libraries ask questions they already know the answer to. It's clear to many of us in the profession that there's a major trend toward remote access to the library -- people who connect to us from their home computers. Our patrons are looking not only for information about what books the library owns. They also want to browse through periodical indexes. If they hit pay dirt, they want the full text of the articles.
We know this is true. We can track its growth, month by month. We know we need to get ready for it. Why ask?
Likewise, we can determine that there's a major interest in books on tape. Right now, we buy virtually everything that's produced. We don't have to ask if the public would like us to continue this service. We know they do.
So what will we ask? Well, if you don't use the library, why not? And if you do, what do you most seek from us in the improvement of our services? In other words, what aren't we doing? What new services are most likely to succeed?
Most important of all, how well are we doing? Are you, as a taxpayer, getting your money's worth?
I used to know a librarian in a very rural area of Illinois. She assured me that she saw everybody in the community, and that everybody just loved the library.
She was wrong. Her manner was seen by many people as patronizing and provincial. Some folks drove 30 miles to the next closest library system, just to avoid her.
I'd rather know the truth about the quality of our services than get comfortable with a lie.