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 14, 2004 - The Books Must Go Through
Douglas County's first bookmobile, featuring 8 stops, was provided by the now defunct Plains and Peaks Library System, headquartered in Colorado Springs. These days, we again have a bookmobile, shuttling back and forth between Roxborough and Castle Pines North.
But bookmobiles aren't the only way to get books into people's hands. As told on the thoroughly charming website www.bookboat.com, countries around the world have found a host of innovative solutions to various topographic and social barriers.
* Bookboats. You'll find them in Florida, Alaska, Argentina, Venezuela, Norway, Sweden, Thailand -- and even in a couple of independent international floating libraries. In Florida, the Amorys of Boca Grande "endowed and built the Johann Fust Community Library" in 1959, and later brought their boat, Papyrus II, to Captiva "loaded with books to be borrowed by islanders."
In Alaska, bookboats (two skiffs traveling the rivers to fishing camps) supply books to the children. "The books are kept in plastic containers marked with the appropriate grade levels. Along with the books, the children may also choose to take a plastic Ziploc bag containing a note pad, workbook, pencil, crayons and a prize, such as a beach ball. To promote reading among the children's parents, the organizers bring them newspapers."
In Argentina, there's the "biobliolancha," boasting 1500 books, 300 videos and CD-ROMS, a computer, a television, a video cassette player, audio equipment with outside loudspeakers, equipment to measure the depth of the water, VHF radio, an electricity-generating group of 220 Volts, cooks, and "a complementary bath."
In Norway, the private boat "Epos" is chartered during the winter months, where it braves rough seas to float its "6,000 books, the skipper, one able seaman and two or three librarians" in and out of the fjords. In the evenings, the Epos shows films, and offers lectures and other programs.
* Book trains. in Bangkok, a train (one car with books, one with a classroom, and one with computers and music) is used to divert homeless children from crime.
* Book bikes. In Chile, Horacio Ogaz rides a tricycle that functions as a traveling library. Every day, he "travels the streets of the remote and marginal districts of the city, offering door-to-door service and free loan of the books. Books about cooking, history, medicine and classic literature form just a part of the collection of 400 titles. Horacio's goal is to promote reading to the population of more than 1600 inhabitants in the sectors of Yungay and Cerro Alto who have little or no opportunity to access the urban centers of reading."
* Book packpacks. Also in Chile, in the commune of Olivar Alto, 25 children between the ages of 8-12 are provided with books of poetry and fiction. They backpack them to the homes of people who "for health reasons" cannot visit the library. The children also get to participate in public square readings, and have met many famous authors.
* Camel-drawn libraries. In Kenya, the fleet of 3 camels has grown to six since 1996. (We don't know whether that's through additional purchases, or natural reproduction -- which is something your average bookmobile can't do!) The camels serve over one million people within a 20 kilometer area. Vehicles, it seems, keep getting stuck in the sand. "The first camel carries five hundred books in wooden boxes. The second camel, which is tied to the tail of the first camel, carries a tent, steel poles and a blue tarp. The last camel does not carry anything and is generally used as a spare."
* Donkey libraries. In Zimbabwe, donkeys, equipped with electro-communication carts, which have solar units on the roof, bring more than books. The solar-generated electricity allows them to deliver radio, telephone, fax, e-mail and the Internet.
The thirst for literacy, and the dedication of librarians the world over adds up to a simple message: the books must go through.