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 5, 2001 - This Year's Vacation: Read Colorado!
I took a quick Colorado vacation last weekend. We went out to Montrose, then to Ouray, then back through the Black Canyon, with a stop in Salida. Amidst all the natural splendor, we also had the chance to do something I rarely can do these days: be a regular library patron. I tour a lot of libraries.
Part of me is always sizing up the competition. What have they done that we should do?
But it happens that two of the places I stopped this trip I've been to several times. I come back because I already know that they're successful. And that means I can stop worrying about it. I can do something that all the rest of you do all the time: enjoy the library as a customer, not as an administrator.
The two libraries can be found in the communities of Montrose and Salida. Montrose's library takes up all of a city block. It has a new building on one side, and an old school on the other.
There is a restrained, but surprisingly rich feel to the place. All good libraries are deeply sensual experiences. The library in Montrose has burnished wood and textured carpets. Sprinkled throughout are solid, well-crafted tables and chairs. It also has (oh heresy!) windows that open, under which are padded window seats.
The library has a number of topnotch Internet workstations, catalog stations, study rooms with fast Internet connections. It has a well-appointed meeting room and local history room and storytelling room.
The children's area is fanciful and interesting.
I sat on a lovely wooden bench in the new book area and browsed the philosophy and religion offerings. My kids settled into the kid's room. My wife enjoyed the gliding rockers.
The library was teeming with people, and this on a Monday morning.
Later that day I stopped by Salida. It too was packed. Salida is a good example of something that is very hard to do: double the size of an old Carnegie library. But the library is not just twice as big. It manages to match the astonishing attention to detail, the craftsmanship, that defines the Carnegie-era buildings. It feels not like a jarring bionic attachment, but like the gracious introduction of a beloved spouse, not exactly the same, but complementary, and somehow, grown similar and integral.
Here too was a charming children's area, Internet terminals with waiting lines, windows that opened, window seats, and books, magazines, and AV materials all conscientiously assembled and maintained.
Certainly, there are differences of community, and collections, and construction. But the similarities shine through. In both cases, the libraries are clearly loved, clearly supported by their towns both financially and through constant use. In both cases, the libraries show evidence of recent construction (both had their grand re-openings in the past three years).
In both cases, there is the conscious attempt to marry the past with the future.
All of which leads me to lay out an idea I've had knocking around in the back of my head lately.
I can sum it up in two words: Read Colorado. When you take your vacation this year, you don't have to go any farther than your own back yard. Plan your vacation to visit the state's many libraries.
Make sure to bring your Douglas Public Library District card! Almost 100% of the rest of the public libraries in the state will honor it. That means you'll get free books on tape, free paperbacks, free kids' books. It's better than a triple-A membership.
But you'll also get remarkably interesting and well-organized introductions to the towns. Check out Montrose's local history room; or Salida's many fliers in the foyer.
You'll not only find a fascinating architectural tour, you'll be introduced to a legion of local heroes. Just ask the reference librarian: "Do you have any local authors?"
You've just discovered one of the real treats of the state. We have lofty mountains, and lofty minds. Why not spend some time with both?