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.
November 5, 2003 - Library Contribution to Economic Development
On occasion, I get glum about American culture. But then I remember some facts that make me feel better.
Here's my favorite: There are more public library branches in America than McDonald's. Truly -- we have over 16,000 service locations; they have fewer than 15,000.
Here's another: in a given year, there are more visits to the local library (Denver, for instance) than there are to all city sporting events combined. In fact, last year, there were over 1.1 billion library visits, or 4.3 visits per capita nationwide.
Don't you feel better now?
What do people come to us for? Some people think the Internet is our competition. But it could be part of our draw. As of 2002, some 92 percent of public libraries had access, and 83 percent made that access available directly to their patrons.
It might be the collections. Here's the order of subjects that have proven to be both the most popular, and generally account for the greatest number of public library purchases: Medicine/Health, How-To/"Home Arts," Biography, Arts/Crafts, Cookbooks, Travel, History, Computers, Business, and Self-Help/Psychology.
Across the country, children's materials, all by themselves, account for some 612 million items, or about 36 percent of total checkouts. (At the Douglas County Libraries, it's closer to 42 percent.)
Or maybe people go to libraries for the programs. Over 48 million children did, last year.
Or it might be that people come simply to meet each other. I'm convinced that the real story of public libraries over the past 10 years is that communities are rediscovering us as the long lost "commons," the public gathering place that doesn't charge a toll at the gate. You see this change in the explosive growth of public meetings, the quest for virtual offices, or even the casual conversations struck up over the new magazines.
And of course, some people just go to the library because they like the people who work there. In happens that in 2002, over 390,000 people worked in libraries across the country.
I've gotten interested in the economic development side of libraries. Some of our contributions to the local economy are obvious. Busy public libraries serve as anchor stores, generating a steady flow of traffic even when times are tough. In fact, the worse the business climate, the more traffic we get, which is undoubtedly a shot in the arm for our neighbors.
There are three kinds of publicly funded libraries in Colorado: academic, public, and school. As of last year, there were 57 academic library buildings, employing 1,340 people, and returning over $79.4 million to the economy.
There were 243 public library buildings, employing 2,489 people, and spending some $163.7 million on various services.
School libraries could be found in 1,437 buildings, providing work for 2,538 people, and investing $55.8 million in the education of our children.
Add it all up, and more than 1700 libraries employ almost 6,400 Coloradans and spend nearly $300 million annually.
Some would have it that government employees do nothing more than take your money. But that's not how it works for library workers. We spend most of our time adding value to those dollars, then pumping them right back into the communities where we live.
Libraries are good business.