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 20, 2002 - The DVD Gang
Let me tell you the story of the DVD gang.
A family -- a man, a woman, a child, and another man -showed up at one
of our branch libraries. They presented Denver identification. Under our
Colorado Library Card program, that was enough to get them all library
cards with us.
They then proceeded to check out about 20 DVD's apiece.
A couple of days later, they showed up at another of our branches. Using
their new cards, they repeated the performance.
A few days later, the same thing, at another branch.
Bottom line: over the course of a month, this roving band of film fans
snapped up some 700 DVD's from Denver metro libraries.
Then, they tried to sell the DVD's to area pawn shops.
Just in case you're thinking: "how bold! Why didn't I think of that?"
there are a few things you should consider.
First, it didn't take area libraries very long to figure out what was
going on. Just about the time the DVD gang had finished its sweep of the
area, all of us noticed that we'd been hit. Libraries quickly contacted
each other. We then quickly organized the data: addresses, dates we'd
been visited, what had been checked out on those dates, and what it was
all worth. It was all sorted (as you might expect), alphabetically, too.
Second, patron confidentiality is no protection against theft. We
contacted the police, who coordinated a multi-jurisdictional response.
Third, pawnshops are under some fairly strict police review. When the
CD's got dumped, it didn't take long for the police to round up actual
photographs of the culprits. It looks like we'll recover most of the
Fourth, although the DVD Gang then fled ahead of all the overdue
notices, they have also now got credit records and police bulletins
waiting for them. They're looking at a host of unhappy consequences,
probably including restitution, fines, and perhaps jail time. All for
what will turn out to be just a little bit of money.
Fifth, because of all this, we've reviewed our policies. We also did a
database analysis. The average patron rarely checks out more than a
handful of DVD's at a time. (This also reflects the fact that this is a
new collection for us, so is often picked over.) So we've installed a
new limit: each patron may only check out 7 DVD's on his or her card per
session. That's one a day.
But here's something else worth remembering. All of the libraries agreed
that by far, in overwhelming numbers, our patrons are actually very
good. We get back a huge percentage of what we check out. We always
Our policies should, and do, reflect the usual honesty of the public,
rather than the suspicion and paranoia that might be engendered by such
reprobates as the DVD Gang. Just because a few of us are dim and
desperate, doesn't mean that all of us should be treated that way.
So remember, folks, you read it here. Crime doesn't pay. Thoughtfulness
and civic virtue, do.