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.
October 24, 2001 - Pioneering Librarians
Recently I attended a lecture by a library professor. I had the pleasure of sitting next to the delightful Virginia Boucher. "Ginnie," as she is known to her many friends and admirers, lives in Boulder, but has a more local connection. She attended library school, and was dear friends, with Genevieve ("Nicky") Mead, one of the true founders of Douglas County's libraries.
Ginnie is another pioneer. She was one of a handful of people who invented something librarians call Eye-Ell-Ell (ILL) -- InterLibrary Loan.
People today now have grown used to the extraordinary openness of libraries, especially in Colorado. These days, librarians take it for granted that if our patrons request something we don't have, we have simple options. We jump on our computers, and find out who's got it, and whether or not it's on the shelf. If the item is nearby, we can send the patrons over to pick it up from another library. If that's inconvenient, we request that the owning library send it over to us FOR our patron.
In either case, there is no cost to the patron. (Rarely, an out of state library will charge some nominal fee for shipping.) Libraries cooperate.
But this was not always so. For many years, libraries hoarded their treasures, particularly at the university level. Ginnie was one of the bright young women, just starting their careers, who tackled the task of establishing protocols to enable broader borrowing.
The world of Interlibrary Loan is fraught with jargon and technical issues the general public never hears about. For instance, there's the idea of "load leveling."
In brief, libraries with large collections can quickly find themselves "net lenders" -- sending out far more books than they borrow from other libraries. "Load leveling" tries to distribute the requests (thus the costs) more fairly among participating libraries.
The process can be cumbersome -- and was even more so before computers. The patron would request a title. The information would be typed or written onto a five part form. The form would then begin its long journey: to the first library on the list (by region, for instance). Not there? Then on to the next. They own it, but it's checked out? Wait till it gets back, or move on to the next one?
The amazing thing is not that actually getting the books typically took only 4-6 weeks. What's amazing is that the book showed up at all.
I've heard Ginnie speak several times. A former rock climber, she is still slim and energetic. She retains her forthrightness, her wry humor, and her justifiable if understated pride in her contributions to the establishment of a key library service.
Ginnie is special to me for another reason. I was a colleague of her daughter, Julie Boucher. Julie worked for the state library, and shared with me a keen interest in issues related to censorship. Several years ago, Julie and her husband died in a technical rock climbing accident. Last year, I had the honor of winning the Julie J. Boucher Award for Intellectual Freedom, now known as "the Julie."
There was much that was similar between Ginnie and Julie. Both bright, both with a sense of wiry tensile strength. I got a kick out of the fact that Ginnie pronounced her last name to rhyme with "voucher." Julie pronounced her name to rhyme with "touchÈ." For a long time, I didn't even know they were related.
Librarianship owes its ease of use, its dedication to service, precisely to people like Ginnie and Julie. It's a history worth remembering -- and celebrating.