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.
May 7, 1997 - Meeting Rooms
My wife and I allow Perry, our 3 year old son, to pick out his own clothes every day. But we don't just open a drawer and let him grab something. We set two choices out for him: two shirts, two pairs of pants, two colors of socks. This is the way, it seems to us, to begin to develop the sort of child who isn't afraid to make decisions. (Based on data to date, I don't think this will be a problem for my boy. Patience: that might be a problem.)
This is much like an old trick I learned as a shoe salesman. Give people two choices, and they pick something. Give them three, and they figure they're not ready to buy.
It's important to carefully consider such delicate decision-making processes. They determine, as in the first case, how a person grows, and in the second case, what that person will buy. These decisions are just as important for public entities as for real people.
Here's a case in point. At a recent gathering of our branch managers, the subject of meeting rooms came up. We asked ourselves:
Would it be better for our patrons to call just one central number to book meeting rooms all around the district? OR
Is it better to deal just with your local library?
There are lots of ways to size this one up. The Aurora Public Library, for instance, actually contracts out their meeting room services. Meetings are centrally booked. The subcontractor is responsible for setting up the rooms, and breaking them down afterwards. They supply such amenities as pitchers of water. In fact, Aurora even caters meals for the meetings, for a price. For obvious reasons, booking the room also has a price.
Right now, the Douglas Public Library District is at the other end of the spectrum. We don't set up the room for you, and we don't cater it. But we don't charge anything, either. (Although donations are always welcome!) It's clear to me that there is an acute need for free meeting room space in this county, particularly for not-for-profit and/or civic groups. The library is a logical place for community meetings, a non-partisan public space.
Too, there is something to be said for the flexibility of local control. Most of our libraries are open 68 hours a week. There's almost always someone to talk to, or to take a look at the schedule. With a centralized system, public inquiries are usually confined to certain hours of operation: banker's hours.
Just as a child grows from making decisions about his clothing to making far more -- and far more complicated -- decisions about how to manage his time, the library has witnessed extraordinary growth in the use of our meeting rooms. Centralized administration of the booking has some advantages.
From the public's perspective, it might be nice to call just one number to determine room availability for every library location. Now, scheduling a meeting at a library might involve as many as five or six calls. Too, growing the "meeting room management" service might raise the level of meeting room amenities (for instance, room set-up).
But it would also generate new costs. By asking the public to set up the rooms themselves, we keep costs to a minimum. And MOST of our meetings are specific to an area anyhow. A Castle Rock group wouldn't meet in Parker, and vice versa.
After we kicked it around for awhile, our librarians decided that it's probably too soon for a change. Right now, we like the local contact and the relative absence of bureaucracy. But we can see that the time might be coming. That's a perfect opportunity to ask the public to chime in about this issue.
So this is a call to those people who use our meeting rooms:
Would you rather that things continue as they are (free, arranged at your local library)?
Or would you rather see a more professional, but also more expensive meeting room service (centralized, with additional amenities, and possibly at some nominal fee)?
Let us know, either by talking about this to the staff at your local library, by giving me a call at 688-8752, or e-mailing me at email@example.com.