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 31, 1996 - Kid's Cat Comes to Library
When children get really interested in something, you can see on their faces the naked truth of human existence: we are most alive, most alert, when we're exploring.
As we get older, our explorations get, in most cases, more abstract. We go from sticking our hands in the mud to the study of gardening or agronomy. We go from the rapt tugging at a kite string to a career in aeronautical engineering. We go, in short, from direct sensation to a more intellectual adventure.
For most very young people, the library is at the level of a physical experience. They develop an almost bodily sense of where things are. They know that the stuff they like is in the wooden bins, or by the train, or near the big bug pillows, and that those areas feel, smell, or look a certain way.
But as children get older and their interests break into discrete categories, that kinesthetic awareness of the library gets more diffuse. You can have special feelings about a general area of the library. But one metal shelf looks and feels a whole lot like another.
So at some point, children stop just poking into odd corners of the area, physically investigating the space. With luck, they turn to the catalog, and scrutinize it mentally.
There are two problems with this, though:
* computer terminals put off some people. There's too LITTLE tactile response. Especially for the folks who remember the big, gleaming wooden card catalogs, a terminal feels, ironically, too disconnected.
* computer terminals are boring. In general, librarians group library holdings into just three broad categories: listings by author and title (including series titles), and subject descriptions. To find things in our computer system, you have to work through a series of relatively dull menu screens. You can learn to appreciate its power and efficiency. But only a cataloger or programmer can learn to love it.
Things are about to change. As of this week, thanks to $500 donations by each of their Friends groups, our Highlands Ranch, Oakes Mill, Parker, and the Philip S. Miller libraries all have something called "Kid's Cat." "Cat" is short for "catalog."
Kid's Cat encourages children to delve into the intellectual structure of a library catalog in a far more involving and intuitive fashion. All they have to do is slide around a trackball, built right into the keyboard, until the on-screen pointer is over a colorful graphic. Then they click a button. More graphics come onto the screen.
The choices are still, in a way, subject descriptions. But they're not the subject descriptions children usually see. The headings are in plain English. The Kid's Cat screen is more interesting, more beguiling, than the screens of our other terminals.
But unlike, say, a TV screen, the child is in charge, and the payoff is a list of titles that match the various searching strategies: lists of books about bears, or ghost stories, or tall tales. Once a particular title has been identified, the Kid's Cat will even display a map of where in the library the item can be found.
For a long time, library technology has been a tool for grown-ups -- even though many children have picked it up far more quickly than their parents.
Only now are we beginning to take a fresh look at these tools through the eyes of a child. By and by, I suspect that all of our catalogs will look more like Kid's Cat. And that just might herald a bold new age of exploration.