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 28, 2000 - US West Troubles
It's easy to get hooked.
Ask anybody who used to be on a party line. At first, a phone was just a sort of insurance policy, a hedge against disaster -- a fire, a medical emergency. Then it became a convenience. Then, people learned they could listen in on community gossip. Before long, it got easier and easier to stay on the line.
Eventually, the infrastructure got big enough, got sophisticated enough, to let everyone have a private phone line, to the general impoverishment of the rumor mill.
These days, not only do most people have private phones, they have multiple personal phones: cell phones, faxes, pagers, wireless Internet connections, and on and on.
You've seen them, parading their dependencies on the highway. I've sat next to people in restaurants who shouted at their phones all through lunch. I read in Dear Abby about a guy who carried his cell phone conversation into the men's room and back.
A couple of weeks ago, I sat in front of a woman whose cell phone went off during the middle of a play. The same night, another guy had the semi-conscious decency to make his call from the back of the theater.
US West is clearly doing a booming business. At least once or twice a week, I get a come-on for some service -- a new line at home, a new service at work.
That's one of the things that frustrates me. The Douglas Public Library District, fairly frequently, orders some of these services. They're not cheap, either. We spend roughly $50,000 a year with US West.
But that's not what frustrates me. What frustrates me is the apparent inability of US West to reliably deliver on the day they told us we could have it the same service they so aggressively marketed.
To be fair, on two occasions they have in fact showed up on the day they said they would, and done the job we paid them for: the installation of a new T-1 line. I\'m grateful. Really.
I wish it happened more often. At our Parker Library, some years ago now, we let US West know, weekly, that we were closing our old branch and moving to a new location. We needed a new digital line to replace the old one, a line running to our Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. And every week, for the six months we did this, we were assured that everything was in order, confirmed and scheduled.
Until, of course, the day that the installation was to happen. Then, we were informed that no such order record existed in the system. Did we wish to place an order?
After some six hours of calls routed to Minnesota (for my convenience, I was told), somebody finally showed up -- with orders to connect the new library to the library we had just moved out of. It took another couple of hours to straighten that out, and a much harried but intelligent installer finally got the job done. Actual work time: 20 minutes.
The kicker to the story is that I got a very polite call, some three weeks later, asking me if I could please tell him just what, exactly, US West had done for us. My response was a model of self-restraint.
My frustration now concerns Highlands Ranch. We let US West know, once again well in advance of our need, that we wanted a T-1 line. We took the date they gave us, then tried to work, quietly, to move the date up, in order to check in the tens of thousands of books that have to be processed before we can open our new library. I didn't have much hope for that, but we tried. We failed.
Then the original day for installation came and ... surprise! Their system now shows at least two installation dates, one of them a month after the library opens. The one thing I do not want, although I've heard several entertaining if convoluted attempts to give one, is an explanation.
In brief, we are dependent on certain services -- checkout stations, Internet terminals, etc. These services, in turn, are all dependent upon US West. There is no alternative provider. The library district is paying people who cannot do essential library tasks because the phone company can't or won't install the service it sold us. Again.
It's easy to get hooked. It sure is hard to get hooked up.