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 27, 2002 - Library Non-User Focus Groups
On November 6, 2002, the Douglas Public Library District conducted two "non-user" focus groups. These were for people who did not have library cards; nor did anyone else in their households.
One focus group consisted of adult men and women from around the county. The second group consisted of young adults.
In general, the questions our facilitator asked them were the same. We asked people the last time they'd used a library for any reason. We asked them where they went for information, and for recreational reading. We asked them how important a variety of library materials were to them.
We also had a host of questions about music and film formats, about word processors, and about our new electronically-based 24/7 reference service.
Finally, we asked them some dandy questions I stole from a recent library conference: "what do you spend most of your time on right now?" and "what would you like to spend your time on?"
Here are some of the key findings:
* Most library materials (books, magazines, reference books, videos, tapes, etc.) are considered important to both young people and adults.
* However, the people who don't use libraries have found other sources for their reading material, and for their other "library" needs (as in finding the answers to questions). In general, the young adults at the session say they don't need the public library -- they get the information they need from the school library or from the Internet. For the adults, they get information from the Internet, and recreational reading from bookstores and friends.
* Adults and young adults both say they don't have enough time to go to the library.
* Music availability is more important to the young adults than to the adults. Adults show a keener interest in DVD's than the students did. However, both age groups agreed that music and video would be critical to satisfying their overall needs.
* One of the real surprises was, as our consultant wrote, "The adults were almost unanimous in admitting that they did not know what the library has to offer." They did, however, have some ideas for us to consider. Among those ideas were advertising in the paper, hosting community events, do broad community mailings, send out information through the welcome wagon, market children's programs through the schools, and expand our web presence.
Of course, we do all those things right now.
Finally, several of the adults expressed an interest in using the library's meeting rooms for various other organizations.
My favorite comment concerned the adults' use of free time. Lots of things were listed as recreational past times, among them gambling. Said one of our participants: "If I had any more spare time, I probably couldn't afford it."