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.
February 12, 2003 - The Pre-Overdue Notice
A good friend of mine, the director of another Colorado public library district, celebrated her 50th birthday with a "Jubilee." She took the year off. During that time, she made herself available as a volunteer. But she refused to lead anything. "I'll stuff envelopes," she said, "but I won't write the letters."
She said she needed to recharge her life, get back in touch with the things that mattered. She had a couple of life projects she'd been putting off. My friend is a committed Christian, and happens to be straight. But like many churches today, her own church was grappling with the issue of whether or not to welcome gay members. She wanted to spend the time reading and thinking through Scripture, then writing up what she learned.
And so she did. I even posted it on my personal website.
When my friend returned to librarianship, refreshed and reinvigorated, she made some fascinating observations. Most things hadn't changed much. There were a few new players, of course, and she was happy to meet them. The people, she said, was what she had missed the most.
There were some new political wrinkles -- but not many.
There was really only one area that took some time for her to get back up to speed. That area was technology.
At base, library services have an unchanging mission: librarians gather, organize, and make publicly accessible the intellectual capital of our culture. The means by which we do so is also easily summarized. Until, that is, the technologies of the 90s and 21st century.
With a great build-up like that, I should now unveil some huge new automated service, something that tops the World Wide Web, Internet-based full-text periodical articles, and even our new virtual reference service, which gives you a real live reference librarian, right through our website, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
So here it is: if you've got e-mail, we'll let you know the day BEFORE a book is due.
That's right. No more frantic digging under the bed and bathtub when the overdue notice arrives. Instead, you'll get a polite email reminder before a single fine has accrued. The notice also has a link to our website, where you can renew the item (providing, of course, that nobody else is waiting for it).
As I have noted in previous columns, I'm sometimes surprised by just how paranoid people get about library fines. Never mind that the Douglas Public Library District has the lowest fines around: a nickel a day for most materials, with a maximum fine per item that's a fraction of the item's cost.
So now, instead of guilt-ridden and fearful transactions at the circulation desk, patrons will receive a discreet message before any wrongdoing has occurred.
It's like the light and judicious hand of your spouse, who touches you lightly on your arm as you accelerate up a hill, with the gentle news, "There's a police car just ahead." And so forewarned, you observe the strict limits of the law, and enjoy the blithe confidence of the utterly proper.
Isn't technology grand? For those of you library patrons with long records, the "pre-overdue notice" is truly a cause for Jubilee.