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.
July 30, 2003 - Hitting the Bullseye
My son, Perry, is 9 years old. Not long ago, we went through a period when we played a lot of darts.
We'd make up various scoring systems, based more or less on our growing expertise. You won if you got the greatest number of darts to actually stick. Then you won if you got the highest number of darts within the broad inner circle. Finally, you won based solely on the number of bullseyes.
It was fun, and Perry got really good. I can't help but think that it's smart training for business.
I'm serious. Whether you're in the business of business (to make money) or the business of service (government or non-profits, for instance), there are lots of parallels. First, you have to understand what "winning" looks like.
Then, the trick is consistency. Perry's progress came down to learning how to nail down more and more of the variables: distance from the board, placement of feet, the grip, position of elbow and wrist, force.
People often complain about "bureaucracy." Really, what they object to is the heavy emphasis on rules. "We do what we do because that's what we've always done." In business, the idea is that we're supposed to innovate, become more productive, endlessly reinvent our processes.
But the truth is, any organization that leaves everything up for grabs, year after year, never really learns how to do anything. It can't track its progress, because it can't compare this year to last. Successful organizations aren't necessarily the ones that innovate; they're the ones that have learned to remember, and build on, the things they do well.
I think about how our library system has grown. In 1990, just about all we offered was a circulating collection. So we focused on that, learned to do it in a way that was standardized throughout the county. This service became predictable, and therefore sustainable.
Then we moved on to the next thing: establishing "reference" service around the county. We learned what kinds of skill sets to look for; we built core collections and databases; we identified essential equipment needs and job performance standards.
When that became more standardized and predictable, we moved on to children's services. Once again, we hired, trained, tested, built support systems and standards.
The most recent service area in the library to receive this kind of careful staging and development is marketing -- the combination of programming, public relations, community information, and public communication strategies generally.
None of this is to say that once you get these things figured out, you're done. There continue to be significant changes in how we operate. Technology offers us a whole bag of new options every year. The audience or market for our services is also in flux. Each generation discovers its own ideas of the value, and the demand, for the library.
Finally, our staff are themselves a major force for innovation. They tweak our processes, find ways to simplify, or invent whole new approaches.
But whether a new start-up business, or an institution that has endured for a hundred years, finding a precise, unvarying system for some basic functions is vital if you want to hit, not just once, but over and over, the bullseye of success.