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 9, 2002 - Irony in DPL #1 Rating
October 2, 2002, was a day rich in irony.
On the one hand, according to the Denver Post, the Denver Public Library was, once again, awarded first place in the Hennen's American Public Library Ratings. Hennen, a Wisconsin librarian, used 2000 data to rate public libraries in 15 categories, including circulation, staffing, materials and funding levels.
The index has a theoretical minimum of 1 and a maximum of 1,000. Denver's score was 893. Hurray for DPL, which has now won the "top rating" twice in a row.
Each library is compared to its own "class" -- which is determined by the number of people it serves. Comparing the STATES, Colorado comes in number 7 for the quality of its public libraries.
I'm not surprised. There are many excellent libraries in the state. As noted in the Rocky Mountain News, "The tiny Silverton Public Library, 250 miles west of Pueblo, is 10th among 1,003 libraries nationwide serving 1,000 or fewer people. Its score was 807." Also scoring very well were East Routt, Arapahoe Library District, La Junta, Lafayette, Louisville, Hinsdale, and even, I'm pleased to report, the Douglas Public Library District (with a score of 752).
But that was 2000. This year, library news is a little different. Elsewhere in the Post, also on Oct. 2, was the news that the Denver Public Library, which had already laid off 14 people when Gov. Bill Owens cut state support for libraries (including over $2.5 million for DPL) may have to slash yet another $410,000 from next year's budget.
What does that mean to the Douglas Public Library District patron?
Well, some of our patrons have already seen one result. With fewer people to support the requests of other libraries, the wait for our Interlibrary Loan requests is lengthening. DPL, the state's largest collection, simply can't handle the volume it used to. We used to get between 100-130 items a month. Now we average about 11 a month.
Nor can DPL answer as many reference questions when local librarians don't have the resources.
Nor will DPL be able to buy as many books as it used to. A major statewide resource is being whittled away.
Nor will DPL be able to be open as many hours as it now is.
Finally, DPL will have to think long and hard about whether or not it wishes to continue to serve, for free, an estimated 100,000 library patrons from the metro area who use their services on a walk-in basis. Consider: over 20 percent of the people who check out DPL materials do not reside in Denver.
It happens that I have a Denver library card, as well, and I use it. I recognize the extraordinary resource that is a well-staffed, well-stocked library.
But that brings me to another irony. Denver Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie said she prefers the library not reduce hours. Why?
"People need access to the Internet and the libraries are one place they can find that," she said.
I use the Internet, too. But the Internet at it's best is a small subset of what any library does. DPL's greatness to date has more to do with its people, and its materials, than it does its number of Internet terminals.
In my judgment, the Denver Public Library deserved its rating as one of America's best libraries. With fewer people, older books, and fewer patrons, it's going to find it tough to win next year.