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 10, 1998 - Retail Value of Public Library Services
After last year's round of visits to see my terminally ill father, I came up with a new set of requirements for a vacation: (1) you have to go somewhere you've never been before, (2) it has to be somewhere where you don't have any relatives, and (3) it must be beautiful.
The idea behind a vacation, of course, is to shake loose the daily doldrums. Stop thinking about work. Get away from it all.
Well, my most recent vacation started out perfect. I went to the Pacific Northwest for the first time. I have no relatives in that area. The forest, the islands, Puget Sound -- all were spectacularly beautiful.
Here's the part that takes some explaining. On the second day of my vacation, I went to the library. In fact, I wound up attending a library board meeting.
I realize this seems incomprehensible to many people. Vacations are to get away from work. But I rediscovered two things about libraries that I'd forgotten in the demands of the daily routine.
First, I really do have a deep, genuine, even passionate love for the public library. Where else can you just wander into an attractive public building and paw through its treasures? Want guidebooks? Right there. Need a new children's story for your youngest? Pull up a comfy chair, plop your boy in your lap, and start reading. Want to figure out what's happening locally? The newspapers and tables are right here by the window. Beyond all that, libraries are just packed with books. Isn't that cool?
So I browsed the Orcas Island Library District's charming building and found what I almost always find in libraries: interesting collections, intelligent staff, and thoughtfully planned spaces. I even scheduled an appointment to sit and chat with the director. Here I confirmed my impression from the board meeting: the issues of running a library, big or small, are pretty much the same. They vary only in scale.
Conclusions: libraries are nice places to hang out, even when you're on vacation; and the Orcas Island Library District is very smartly managed, with a Board that clearly cares about service, and a community that knows what a good deal it's got.
Speaking of good deals, I then came back and took a fresh look at some of the economics of our own library district.
First I calculated the costs of various retail services: the cost of a non-fiction hardback, a fiction paperback, a video, a magazine, a children's story time, a meeting room, and so on. Then I multiplied that cost by the number of times those items had been used by our patrons in 1997. Then I compared the retail value of the service with our budget.
Here's the conclusion: for every dollar of taxpayer money, the Douglas Public Library District returned $6.00 in service. A bargain!
If you're interested in seeing the entire chart, you'll find it at our web site.
P.S. And speaking of computers, after planning for 5 days of downtime for our hardware upgrade last week, I'm pleased to say the system was up and running after just a day and a half. That completes the first piece of the Year 2000 fix. June 22-25 is when we tackle our software upgrade. Let's hope that goes as smoothly! Thanks in advance for your continued patience.