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.
June 5, 1996 - Public PCs Redux
A few days ago, I got a call from a patron with a complaint. Why didn't any of our libraries provide public computers? It happened that her son was in town and needed to crank out some resumes. She was, she said, shocked that her local library -- and even the Koelbel Library in the Arapahoe Library District -- didn't have a computer, equipped with a word processor and laser printer, available for such a task.
It happens that this idea of publicly accessible computers comes up regularly. So I told her that I'd raise the issue in the newspaper to both (a) walk through my reasoning on the idea, and (b) find out how close or how utterly out-of-synch I am with our community.
Do any public libraries in Colorado provide public PCs? Yes. Some have one; some have several. Some charge for them; some don't. Some require people to attend training sessions; others post signs that say, "You're on your own!"
Why doesn't the Douglas Public Library District have public computers?
First, we don't have a whole lot of extra space. Public computers should be situated either where their use can be easily monitored by staff, or in a locked room. Such locations are hard to come by at all but maybe two of our branches. And in those two, we've come up with what we think are better uses: the display of new library materials and quiet study rooms, respectively.
Second, I'm not convinced there's a need. Every time I give a talk in this county -- and I give a fair number of them -- I ask how many people have a computer and modem in their homes. It's over 90%, and may be over 95%. This squares with a survey I did in Parker last year.
Third, the people that don't have computers quite understandably don't know how to use them, either. That means that they'll need some training and or direct support. We put a lot of time and money into keeping our staff educated on the software we use daily.
Frankly, I shy away from trying to train every staff member in the quirks and obscurities of a product that they won't be using at all. Remember those signs saying, "You're on your own!"? They don't work. People still come to staff when something doesn't work, and get mad at us if we can't solve their problems. I'm unwilling to put out a product that we can't do a good job of supporting.
Fourth, I just don't think providing public computers is our job. A few of our libraries do have some old typewriters, usually donated, that we put out for people to use to fill out the odd form, or type out an address on an envelope. (We don't sell envelopes.) But even this is a marginal service, in my opinion. It's a patron convenience that doesn't cost us much. Public computers aren't like that; they're either expensive to buy, or expensive to maintain, or both.
When we opened our new Parker Library, I tried to find somebody who would sponsor this service, kind of like a photocopy contract: make it coin-operated, and in return, collect the cash, schedule some classes, and take care of any computer viruses and equipment problems on a regular maintenance schedule, or in response to a service call. Nobody took us up on it.
So you tell me: is providing this service a good use of your library tax dollars? Right now, I don't think so. But I'm willing to listen, and susceptible as always to a logical argument.
Or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're getting into the budget cycle for next year, so this would be a good time to make the case.