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.
October 29, 2003 - New Limit on Renewals
When I was a kid, I used to go to a bookmobile.There I found a book called, "Me and Caleb."
I don't remember anymore what it was about (other than Caleb, which I thought then, and still think, is a cool name). But I do remember this. I loved that book, and two weeks later, I asked Mrs. Johnson, the twinkly-eyed bookmobile librarian, to let me renew it.
Two weeks later, I BEGGED her to let me renew it once more. It was against the rules, and I knew it. I told her that I read the book every single day, couldn't I please have it just one more time? Please?
I was young, I was (why deny it?) cute, and I was extravagantly earnest. She looked into my hangdog, baby blue eyes, and gave in.
She was a great librarian.
Unfortunately, and I'm not saying I'm proud of this, I was lying. Oh, I loved the book alright, but I wasn't reading it every day. Why?
Because I couldn't find it.
I'd looked everywhere. And my panic grew hourly. Mrs. Johnson, for all I knew, would lose her job over the sin of breaking sacred rules simply to accommodate a kid who had BETRAYED her. It made me feel sick.
Then there was the other possibility. I wasn't ever going to find it. My parents would have to pay for it. I would lose my library card!
Finally, miserably, I confessed to my mother. She said, after the smallest pause, "Oh, I know where that is," and in moments, set it in my hands.
A few days later, I solemnly handed it to Mrs. Johnson. "Thank you," I said. And I meant it.
My point, in case you're wondering, concerns an upcoming change in our rules. We've discovered that a good many of our materials go out to someone and stay out for a long time. Months. We now have literally thousands of books we haven't seen in half a year.
Nobody is breaking any rules. For years, we have let people renew their materials as many times as they want. After all, people are busy and may not get to something right away. Or they may be using it to teach a child, or take a class.
Sometimes people renew their books just as a matter of convenience -- finding it easier to renew everything all at once.
But here's the problem.
If one person keeps something out for months, then nobody else will stumble across it. Nobody else can fall in love with it.
It's true that people can place holds on long absent books, but that presumes that people find what they want through our computer catalog. We know from countless studies that that's not how it works. People may look up one title, but after that, they go to the shelves to see what's in.
So, effective December 1, 2003, I'll be imposing a limit of 5 renewals on our materials. If, on that day, you've already renewed something, you'll be automatically prevented from renewing it again. That means you have to bring it back.
That's not, I trust, an especially onerous restriction. But it will help us to ensure that more of our patrons have a chance to find the books truly destined for them.
Until then, start looking around for things. Oh, and if you get stuck, don't forget to ask your mom.