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.
December 5, 2001 - Learning & Leisure
Last week I talked about two of the concepts behind the library's new mission statement: building communities, and improving lives.
The rest of the mission statement focuses on three other things: "providing resources" and "supporting learning and leisure."
Public library "resources" means two things. The first is library materials. That consists of books, magazines and newspapers, audiovisual media, Internet access and commercial databases. Most of these materials are produced by mainstream publishers. We also make an effort to sample some of the offerings on the fringe. Why? Because that's where many of the big new ideas come from.
Mostly, "people" means library staff. Clearly, that includes the folks who work the circulation desk, the reference desk, and the children's desk. It also includes the many staff members behind the scenes. The public may never talk to them, but no library can get by without them. We need staff trainers, we need people to build and maintain our website, to order and catalog library materials, to pay the bills, to look after our buildings, and so on.
But there's another dimension to "people as resources." Our patrons come to the library to find answers. Sometimes, the fastest way to provide that answer is to refer our patrons to somebody else. That might mean a phone call to somebody we just happen to know who has the necessary expertise. It might mean a referral to another agency, either local, or beyond.
So that says WHAT we do. Now we get to the WHY. The Library Board has identified two purposes: learning and leisure. The order is important.
Learning is both formal (part of some structured program, whether public or private education) or independent (serving a unique, individual purpose). While we don't have the direct connection to, for example, local school curricula, guess where Douglas County students go to do their homework? We also serve many homeschoolers, either as their whole curriculum, or as a supplment.
Similarly, we don't currently coordinate our collections with the coursework offered by Arapahoe Community College, or any of the Denver universities. But again, our library is often the first stop of those students. They place a demand on us, and we do try to meet it.
One of the buzzwords in formal education these days is distance education. People may live in Douglas County, but attend correspondence school either through the mail, or via the Internet. The library supports these functions, too, either through our collection, Interlibrary Loan, or through the provision of free Internet access.
The independent support goes back to something that used to be talked about a lot in the early days of librarianship. The public library is "the People's University." It just might be that the best, most comprehensive and incisive education is entirely self-paced. It depends upon just two things -- the willingness to make the time, and a source of sufficient supply. We can't help you with the first. We can and do provide the second.
How does one become truly educated? Here's my answer: through sustained reading. (Incidentally, that kind of reading probably WON'T happen at a computer terminal. Computer screens are just too hard on the eyes.)
I have several college degrees, but I consider my true alma mater to be the library. I haven't graduated, though. God willing, I never shall. (As Groucho Marx once said, "I intend to live forever, or die trying." I would append this fervent prayer: "May I read as long as I live, and live as long as I read.")
Now for "leisure." Today, many of our patrons see us as a mental recreation center. They come to us for entertainment, meaning that they read, or listen, or view, library materials for diversion. That isn't to belittle either that need, or our role fulfilling it. Much of our culture started out or remains as popular entertainment. Sometimes it grows deeper, sometimes not.
But in either case, the library as a resource for one's leisure time speaks to an important issue: quality of life. Never underestimate the power of pleasure.
At any rate, this completes my explication of our new mission statement. In weeks to come, I'll talk about something else: our 7 Key Directions for the library.
And here's that mission statement again, just as a reference: "The Douglas Public Library District provides resources to support learning and leisure to build communities and improve lives in Douglas County."