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.
March 31, 2005 - The Bookmobile
The first library I used was a bookmobile. I lived at the edge of town and the bookmobile came to our far flung shopping mall.
It stopped by once a week, which worked pretty well for me as a kid, even if it did stick around only for a couple of hours.
Years later, I lived in rural Arizona. There the bookmobile only made it out once a month, and again only for a few hours. That was a little tougher for me -- but it did persuade me to start a local volunteer library, which got me back to library school.
A bookmobile offered the first library service Douglas County had, too. It was sent up by the Plains and Peaks Library Services System in Colorado Springs. That system is now defunct, incidentally -- eliminated by state budget cuts last year.
The next bookmobile showed up when we tore down the grossly undersized Oakes Mill Library to build the larger, but still modest, Lone Tree Library. That bookmobile -- an ancient relic we bought for a song (a thousand songs, if you figure them at $1.00 apiece) -- wasn't mobile at all. We parked it just beyond the construction site.
And the children loved it. Just as I had.
By the time that library opened, we got crowded out of our free space at the Roxborough Elementary School. So we moved the bookmobile out there until we could open a long promised branch.
A couple of years ago, we thought we had it. We got rid of the now unsafe old bookmobile and started getting ready for a storefront -- whereupon the developer had to back out, leaving us sans bookmobile, and sans library.
Then we got lucky. The good people at the Englewood Public Library had a much newer bookmobile that they couldn't afford to operate. They were reluctant to sell it, but were more than happy to lease it.
So we have, these past couple of years. It spends half its time at Roxborough, and half at Castle Pines North. When the Roxborough Library opens up this fall, we'll investigate some other locations.
In fact, the bookmobile has proved to be a good tool for us. The Douglas County Libraries are well-funded for our current operations. But we do not have the money to build anything new. While the county continues to grow, it's definitely slowing.
That leaves us with pockets of growth that aren't really convenient to any of our existing locations. The bookmobile is a way for us to get to people whose daily travels don't take them anywhere near one of our branches.
Bookmobiles let us make a connection with new communities. It allows us to assess the interest in library services.
Our conversations with new patrons let us know all kinds of important information: how many people have and use an Internet connection from home? (Lots, so we can tell them about our online services and databases.)
How many have CD players in their cars instead of tape players? (Lots, so we're cranking up books on CD, as we have for awhile.)
How many have iPods or other portable handheld devices they might want to listen to books on? (Not enough to replace our books on CD, at least not yet.)
But best of all, a bookmobile lets us see that spark of delight in the eyes of the children. Our staff form strong bonds with them.
My favorite story: when we had to take the bookmobile back to Englewood for some tune-up and repairs, we heard from a lot of our younger patrons. They believed, they told us, that our library staff really lived in the bookmobile. Were they homeless?
For the record, our staff actually do have their own homes -- which have restrooms and showers, which our bookmobile does not.
But no matter how fine or cozy those homes, none have the mysterious allure of the roving bus full of books.