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 18, 1997 - Books by Mail Program
Our culture's idea of service has changed quite a lot over the past half century, and probably not for the better.
I realized this (again) while watching the movie Back to the Future. Marty has just arrived in the 50's, and watches a car pull into the local Texaco station. FOUR young men leap out. One pumps gas, one wipes the windshield, one checks the oil, one checks the pressure of the tires. Our idea of service used to be lavish personal attention.
These days, we define service as "self-service." Cheaper, it is - but meaner, too.
If self-service is indeed a trend - as many people say it is - then how might this apply to libraries?
Well, our library allows people to dial in from home (through the ACLIN network) and place their own holds on materials. When they come to their local library, the books (and other materials) are waiting for them. That's a real convenience, as many of our patrons have discovered.
The Boulder Public Library came up with an interesting wrinkle on this idea. Once staff place the hold (their patrons can't place them themselves), and the books come in, the materials aren't just set behind the circulation desk. Instead, they are mailed right to the patrons' homes, at library expense. To return the items, patrons must drop them off at the library, or bear the cost of a return mailing.
It's an interesting idea. From the patron's perspective, it's hard to beat door-to-door service. From the library's perspective - at least the staff of the Boulder Public Library - library items don't sit around as long, don't get handled as often, get to patrons quicker, and don't take up valuable library space.
On the one hand, a similar notion underpins two Douglas Public Library District programs. One of them concerns our patrons living in the remote mountain community of Deckers. Their tax dollars (plus a generous subsidy by I.R.E.A.) cover the costs of mailing library materials both ways. But they wouldn't use our library at all, otherwise.
The second program is new, this time in our Highlands Ranch area. Some folks are homebound, either because they are elderly, bedridden with a difficult pregnancy, or otherwise physically unable to get to the library. Thanks to the incomparable boon of volunteer time, we will actually take materials right to patrons' homes. (Call 841-6942 if you fit that profile and live in the Highlands Ranch area.)
On the other hand, we don't offer that to all our patrons. Instead, we phone them when their items come in. That's more like old-time service; most larger libraries mail notices. And perhaps our public responds to this human touch. Most of our patrons retrieve their items the same day we call them, or the next.
And perhaps, too, there is something to be said for the library as "the great good place." That is, the library is a kind of sanctuary, a place where you step outside the urgencies of your daily life and are encouraged to meander a bit, to while away a few moments in consideration of the current crop of publisher offerings, or in quest of a timeless classic. While other businesses focus on volume and speed, the library strives to be a place where you can feel both welcome and comforted, a "time out".
So you tell me. Would you like to get your reserves mailed to your house, or would you rather have the excuse to swing by the library and nose around? Call me at 688-8752, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write me at 961 S. Plum Creek Blvd, Castle Rock CO 80104.