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.
November 28, 2001 - New Mission Statement Reflects Connection to Community
There's something called the Fog Index. It's a simple calculation, applied to text, that tells you how complicated your writing is. In brief, when a sentence runs longer than 20 words, you start to lose people.
Back in October, the library's Board of Trustees held a long range planning retreat. One of their outcomes was a new library mission statement.
Mission statements have a faintly Dilbertish air these days. You have to brace yourself for pseudo-statements packed with whatever management buzzwords are making the rounds these days. But we tried to use several tests on our statement.
1. We wanted it to be clear. It should tell people not just WHAT the library does (provide library staff, materials and facilities), but WHY.
2. We wanted it to be brief enough for our staff to remember. (That's the Fog Index idea again.)
3. We wanted to capture the real thrust of our services at this time in our history.
All this followed some previous exercises. We listed some ideas for where we wanted to be in five years. We talked frankly about what we saw as our strengths and weaknesses. We talked about likely opportunities and threats facing the library. We gathered the perspectives not only of the Board, but of staff, of local media, and of other governmental entities in the county.
Two ideas emerged from this discussion. The first was the importance, especially post Sept. 11, of "building community." But in fact, we've been doing that for some time.
Douglas County's rapid growth over the past ten years has two sides to it. The first side is that growth brings many good things: new amenities, higher property values, more choices closer to home.
But it also means that there's an influx of people with no connection to each other. They still drive up to Denver, or down to Colorado Springs, for work. Often, they barely have time to drive home at the end of the day, eat, spend a little time with the family, and go to bed. They didn't grow up here, have family here, have friends here from before.
Yet the thirst for community remains, an essential human need.
Some people form community connections through their children. They discover 4H. They get involved in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Or they volunteer at their neighborhood schools. Or they become sport gypsies, joining the minivan and SUV caravans around the metro area.
Some turn to such community staples as churches, finding their strongest connections through rituals reflecting common beliefs.
Some build community around their business life. They delve into the Chamber of Commerce, join leads groups, and so get pulled into the community volunteerism upon which so many groups depend.
Others join recreation centers, finding allies in the struggle against cellulite. Most rare are the people drawn to directly participate in formal government: town meetings, boards and commissions.
Library people have seen for some time how a new library building energizes an area. It pulls people out of their homes and into a place that offers them so many opportunities to connect. There are are hundreds of programs for both children and adults. There are book discussion groups. There are the many, many community meetings every night, most of them open to the public. And there are the people, often eager to strike up a conversation, who hang around the same favorite sections of the library.
A second thrust of our planning was the fact that many people use the library to reinvent themselves. New parents come in to find information to make them better parents. Some people are going back to school as adults -- or retooling after a layoff. Others are negotiating such life changes as dealing with a serious illness, or retirement.
All of these people have something in common: they are working to improve their own lives. They see the library not just as an end in itself, some kind of abstract "good thing," but as a means to the betterment of the quality of their lives.
At any rate, here's our new mission statement. I offer it for your review and comment:
The Douglas Public Library District provides resources for learning and leisure to build communities and improve lives in Douglas County.
Next week I'll have a little more to say about "learning and leisure."