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 18, 2002 - Shop Locally
One of the surprises of the Internet was the discovery by thousands of libraries across the country that the hottest information commodity was ... what was going on in our own back yards.
Think about it. You won't use your local library as a portal to Google. You just go to Google.
Certainly, many of the people who use library terminals do go on to search a host of World Wide Web search engines and big databases.
But a close analysis of our logs shows us that the biggest demand on library websites is for local information. That is, people are trying to find local statistics, local contacts, local history.
And, after years of poohpoohing our own catalogs as kind of boring, the truth is, they actually generate brisk traffic. Why? Because it's a local asset, pointing to something people can stop by and pick up on the spot.
There's another reason this local focus is logical. It happens that we employ a host of highly competent librarians. Good as they are, though, there's no way they can be experts on the literally millions of websites out there.
They CAN be experts on Douglas County.
In other words, the idea that libraries are your "doorway to the world," while technically true, pretty much misses the point. Your local library is your doorway to your own neighborhood -- and that's a real service, because it takes a lot of work to get all that information in order.
What goes on in just one town is almost inconceivably rich. Just try, as newspapers do, to track all the club meetings in a single week, or the business of just one governmental entity.
Local libraries have the ability to mine the real depth of some of that data, to reveal its "granularity" -- the fine grit of real stuff, as opposed to the big picture, seen from a distance.
It happens that this insight has a seasonal connection. I got to thinking about all this because of Christmas shopping. Here's what I've concluded. Just as it makes more sense for libraries to try to be local experts than global experts, it makes more sense to shop locally than to shop on the Internet. There are three reasons.
First, shopping locally employs my neighbors. A lot of good people work very hard to make their businesses successful. If I buy their goods and services, I'm helping to ensure the economic well-being of them and their families. That makes for a more stable community.
Second, when I buy goods and services locally, I'm also paying local sales taxes. Those taxes support a variety of services that are important to my well-being and quality of life. I recognize that "no taxes!" is supposed to be one of the great values of online shopping. But often, shipping charges cancel out the economic advantage. More importantly, those purchases do nothing to make MY town better.
Finally, online shopping is a little solitary. I like to see the faces of the people who sell me my groceries, my books, and my meals. It turns the business of living into an actual life.
So that's my tip from the world of library information technology, eminently applicable to the practical politics and economics of living in a real community: think globally, but shop locally.