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.
June 23, 2004 - Computers and Kids, Part 2
Last week, I asked people to let me know what they thought about spending library dollars to stock up on computers in the children's rooms. This was in light of some research that suggested too much exposure to TV and computers before the age of 8 probably wasn't good for anybody.
I got an early surge of folks who strongly argued that computers should be eliminated. But by the end of the week, things had evened out. The general consensus: do what the public wants. And that probably meant, "offer lots of technology."
Once before, I took a stand against public word processing stations. "What does that have to do with our mission?" I asked. Eventually, the repeated demands of the public, and my own staff, persuaded me to change my mind.
It seems that one of the roles public libraries have come to fill is a location where consumers can try-before-they-buy both computer equipment and software. The library is also a place -- although not overwhelmingly so in Douglas County -- for people who don't have access to computers at home.
Some of my correspondents thought there was another point. The computers served as bait. Get the kids in to play some games, and hook them on books!
Research done right here in Colorado (by the state's Library Research Service) suggests that there may be some truth to that. It certainly worked for adults. When Colorado public libraries added Internet stations, every other kind of library use went up sharply: reference questions, browsing of magazines, and checkouts generally. Libraries are cool places, with a lot to offer. The trick is getting people in the door that first time.
But there's a deeper point. It will come as a surprise to no one that the best way parents can help their children grow into strong, smart, healthy grown-ups is to spend a lot of time with them. Talk to them. Listen. Do things together. Engage.
Instead, we fall prey to the American madness. We buy more stuff for them: Game Boys, PlayStations, CD players with headphones, computers, etc. All of these technologies tend to isolate people, even if they are in the same house.
In some ways, I'm hardly one to talk. I spent the last week putting together a wireless home network. I've got one old Mac and two cheap Linux machines all on the World Wide Web. Next week, I'm going to try to hook up a network printer, accessible to all of them.
I tell myself that this is a learning experience. And it is. But a lot of the time I've spent on it, I might have spent playing catch with my son, or walked the dogs with him.
In the long run, what the library does is offer choices. But parents, and their children, are still the ones that make those choices. Let us hope they are thoughtful ones.