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 30, 1997 - US West Problems Resolved
I think of myself as a patient man. For the past five years, the Douglas Public Library District has quietly gone about connecting itself to the Internet, designing web pages, developing useful local information, securing access to public and private databases, and budgeting the resources to keep it all working.
The last task before we brought up our new graphical, Internet workstations (for both Castle Rock and Parker - Oakes Mill and Highlands Ranch are scheduled for next year) was to get a key T-1 data line installed. And this is where my patience was strained: we waited two months past our scheduled installation date to get the final line in. For 60 days, we've been sitting on boxes of equipment that was useless until the line was in place. It took a couple hundred phone calls, a formal complaint to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and a fax to the president of US West to get the 45 minutes of attention that it took to solve the problem.
Of course, I recognize that the Douglas Public Library District is a bit player in this market. We only spend some $36,000 a year on phone services and telecommunications lines. Not that I'm bitter.
But what's past is past. Our workstations should be up in a week or so, fulfilling our commitment to free public access to this new information resource.
During the long delay, however, an important Supreme Court decision was made. In brief, the Communications Decency Act (part of the 1996 telecommunications act) was struck down as unconstitutional. This act would have made almost any Internet transmission of "indecent" material (including language or images not appropriate to a child) both illegal, and subject to stiff penalties.
The American Library Association was the lead plaintiff in this case, arguing that the same First Amendment protections extended to printed material should apply to this new electronic medium. The argument prevailed. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens quoted an earlier Court statement: "[R]egardless of the strength of the government's interest" in protecting children, "[t]he level of discourse reaching a mailbox simply cannot be limited to that which would be suitable for a sandbox."
But librarians also recognize that a "hands off!" attitude doesn't do much to allay the valid concerns of some parents. There is indeed a lot of offensive and age-inappropriate material on the Internet. If sweeping government intervention isn't the right answer, and if filtering software poses problems as bad as the problem it purports to solve (see previous columns), then what's left?
Well, the American Library Association has a useful contribution. It's an online document called, "Librarian's Guide to Cyberspace for Parents and Kids." This document defines some Internet terms, provides some "safety tips" for kids on the Internet, and talks a little about how to determine whether an Internet site provides reliable information. Best of all is the intriguing collection of 50+ web sites that are not only appropriate for children, but highlight just how exciting this technology can be for young learners.
This link will appear prominently on the home page of the library. Parents, look for it. Or if you have web access from her, bookmark the site at http://www.ssdesign.com/parentspage/greatsites/.
As I've written many times, the World Wide Web is a relatively small part of what a library offers. But here too, the traditional skills of librarianship - the gathering and organization of data - can still be usefully applied.
Now that we've got our data line problem resolved, we'll be happy to show you what we mean.