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.
August 7, 1996 - Regional Versus Neighborhood Libraries
The library, like the county, is deeply concerned with the question of "quality of life." In our case, let's call it "quality of service."
There are at least two broad models of library service. One of them is "the regional library." The Arapahoe Library District's Koelbel Library would be a good example. It's a big building, with a big collection, including special areas for children, reference, and business databases. Denver Public Library would be another example.
We have a lot of sophisticated library users in Douglas County. They appreciate the resources of libraries like that.
The other broad model is "the neighborhood library." It's a place where everybody knows your name. When you walk in the door, the staff is likely to have pulled a book for you, not because you requested it, but just because someone thought you would like it.
There are strengths and weaknesses to both models. Which kind of library YOU prefer to use depends on lots of things -- your age, your interests, your career, or just how you look at the world.
Lately the Douglas Public Library District has been doing a lot of thinking about long range planning. We think there is room for both kinds of libraries in our district. (And a couple more kinds as well.)
Douglas County, a planning consultant once told me, is clearly "tri-furcated" (split into three parts). These parts roughly correspond to county commissioner districts: northwest (Highlands Ranch), northeast (Parker), and south-central (Castle Rock). We believe, over the next five years, these will best be served by "regional libraries:" the Highlands Ranch Library (although not at its current location), the Parker Library, and the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. These three libraries will be the locations where more expensive resources (computer equipment, special collections, reference staff, for instance) will be concentrated.
But there is also a place for neighborhood libraries. Our oldest (and smallest) neighborhood library is Louviers, where local resident Fran Snyder provides warmly personal service. Our Oakes Mill Library, although a little larger, is also a neighborhood library, with a solid connection to its Lone Tree and Acres Green patrons. While we hope to do some upgrading at both facilities (Louviers needs another terminal or two, Oakes Mill should be twice as big as it is right now), these libraries are defined by their locations. They are "good fits."
Now for those other two kinds of libraries.
Over the past several years we have tested what we call the "satellite library" model at three locations: Cherry Valley (in southeastern Douglas County), Larkspur (in southwestern Douglas County), and Roxborough (in the northwest corner). Each of these areas tends to be somewhat isolated geographically.
In brief, a federal grant helped us buy a terminal and CD-ROM workstation for each location. The library and the school district share the costs of providing public service two or three times a week.
The Cherry Valley experiment works just fine as it is: open twice a week to enable local residents to request items from other branches, then come pick them up. Our Larkspur location proved to be a useful addition to the existing school library, but never found much general public use, so although the equipment and delivery system remain for school staff and students, we won't be continuing it as an after school program.
Roxborough is another story. It has been intensely used by the public -- enough, I believe, to justify the establishment of our third "neighborhood library" sometime between now and the turn of the century.
Finally, the library sponsors a "books by mail" program for the residents of Deckers -- a unique community in the extreme southeastern edge of the county. The program is very popular, and remarkably cost-effective.
If the library succeeds in fulfilling this vision of the future, that would leave us with three regional libraries, three neighborhood libraries, one school satellite, and a books by mail program. That seems like a good balance to me. But I'd be interested to hear from the rest of you. Somewhere in this menu, can you find the kind of library YOU like?