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 15, 1998 - The Colorado Library Card
Several years ago, I served on something called the Colorado Library Card Committee.
Public libraries in the Denver metropolitan area used to charge each other to loan materials to "non-resident" library patrons. For instance, Douglas County paid Englewood a couple of thousand dollars a year. It wasn't a process that did much good for libraries. Not only did it reduce the money we could have used to buy the books our patrons had to go looking for elsewhere, but the Englewood Library never even got the money. It just went into the city's general fund.
So after a lot of discussion, the Colorado Library Card Committee worked out a way to let patrons of any participating library use their library cards at any other participating library. Cost to the patron: zero. Cost to the library: zero.
The program was completely voluntary. Nobody was forced to join.
At first, there was some concern on the part of smaller libraries that hordes of big city folks would swoop down and grab all the bestsellers. That didn't happen.
It's true, though, that library patrons (particularly those along the Front Range) are pretty footloose. They may live in Douglas County, but they work in Denver. Or they may live in Colorado Springs, work at the Tech Center, and drive through Castle Rock every day.
So the Colorado Library Card was a good deal for almost all of our own patrons, greatly expanding their access to materials. With the money that we saved from the old fee arrangements, all of us were able to buy a lot more new materials.
Shortly after the Colorado Library Card program was launched, circulation (our word for how many items get checked out) rose sharply all over the metro area. Coincidence?
Today, roughly 9 out of every 10 Colorado public and academic libraries have joined.
Fewer than half of the school libraries have signed up -- in part because of issues of building security, in part because few school libraries have their collections available through the Internet, nor are they open in the evenings. All of these are issues of public accessibility.
On the other hand, the program also embraces a number of private libraries -- medical libraries, law libraries, museum libraries, and others -- most of which used to be closed to the general public.
While there are a few other states with a state wide card, most involve only public libraries. In this program (and in others) Colorado leads the nation.
The Library Research Service, associated with the Colorado State Library, recently conducted a survey of Colorado Library Card participants.
The report is not yet final. But here was the finding that jumped out at me: when asked to characterize the amount of effort involved in providing this service, 80.7% of the respondents felt there was either "no noticeable effort" or a "negligible effort." 18.3% of the participants said that it required "modest effort," which was defined as "noticeable but absorbable." Nobody said it required a "substantial effort."
When asked what kind of rating participants would give the program considering its public relations value, 1.8% said it was "unsuccessful." 28.4% said it had no effect. But a whopping 66.9% said that the program was either "modestly successful" or "very successful." (2.8% did not respond.)
Let's review. Here is a program, instituted voluntarily by public officials, costing nothing additional to taxpayers, that opened library doors all over the state. Its impact is staggering -- millions of books (and other library materials) are circulated per year. But the program is so simple and straightforward that the overwhelming majority of the libraries simply incorporated it into their daily routine, and over two thirds consider it successful.
If you haven't used your Colorado Library Card, what are you waiting for?