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.
August 27, 2003 - Staff Day
Douglas County Libraries just held its 9th annual staff day -- the one day each year when we pull all of our staff together for a variety of training workshops.
There's a lot on our plate. Technology continues to transform what libraries do -- hence our sessions on new electronic databases, features of our catalog, and more.
Technology also continues to make greater demands on our finances. At our library, we spend 60% of our revenue on staff, 20% on library materials (books, magazines, DVD's, etc.), and something approaching 10% on computers and telecommunications.
Then there are the fees over which we have no control. For instance, the county treasurer takes a percentage of what we collect in taxes. Our various kinds of insurance eat up a chunk of change. A certain number of our buildings can be counted on to have troubles -- HVAC units go out, roofs leak, and so on.
But back to technology. One of the ways we're trying to whittle down some of those expenses is by the adoption of Open Source technologies. We've found that our Linux-based servers (the machines that manage our catalog and our website, for instance) not only cost less to buy, but are also more reliable than other commercial products.
This year, the whole library is moving to a new "office suite." It's called StarOffice -- on which the OpenOffice.org project is based. You may be used to paying about $250 per machine for a Microsoft Office license. How about $79 for essentially the same thing? Now suppose that you just have to buy one copy per building, and you actually have permission to copy it for the other machines?
So one of our sessions last week was on just what StarOffice is and does. Frankly, I'm hoping to kick off something of a local government move toward Open Source software. As any business person knows, revenue is only one side of your operation; controlling expenses is the other side.
But there's more to a business -- or the library -- than computers and finance. So we devoted some time during our staff day to another topic: communication. That divides into all kinds of categories.
* Mission. Every now and then, organizations have to get together to remind each other what the business is all about. In our case, that's pretty straightforward: service. That's service to the patron first, then to staff -- and not the other way around.
* Planning. What are we going to be focusing on for the next couple of years? One of the answers to that one is marketing. We've changed our name. We'll be rolling out a new logo. We're working on cleaning up a host of internal "looks" and processes to send a more intelligently coordinated and consistent message to the public. We're also looking for ways to mobilize our resources to help the many other worthy organizations in the county.
* Organizational culture. The library district is one of the county's larger employees. We currently have about 300 people on the payroll. How can we make sure that our ability to make decisions doesn't break down, or get snarled in bureaucracy? There are lots of answers to that one, too: keep the decision-making ability as low in the organization, as close to the public, as possible. Work out lots of different ways to get a message both up and down the administrative structure. Make sure that people are encouraged to toss the rules out the window when they clearly don't work (and tell the rest of us why!). Talk to each other with the same courtesy and cooperativeness we demonstrate to our patrons.
At the end of our staff day, I realized what I realize every year. Libraries are good places, doing good work. And the people, our staff, are a pleasure. They're not only smart and capable, they are also funny. I'm proud -- and lucky -- to work with them.