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.
April 27, 2005 - Consultant Report
Recently, we hired some consultants to come in and examine how we "handle materials."
That included everything from how we took requests, to how we ordered them, to how they were delivered, to how the invoices were checked, to how the items were cataloged, to how they were set up for checkout, and to how they made it out to the branches.
As I've mentioned in previous columns, we move a lot of materials.
But as I hope I've also made clear, we have grown incredibly over the past 15 years. That's when I got here, and, coincidentally, that's when Douglas County became the fastest growing county in the nation.
Well, our consultants didn't pull any punches. We heard some hard truths.
They told us that some of the things we do were, to be blunt, crazy for an operation our size. Those practices weren't crazy when we adopted them, as a smaller library district. But now, today, they were almost criminally inefficient.
I have to say I recognized that some (OK, many) of the things we do I was myself responsible for. I had set standards of service, or rules of operation, that just didn't grow well with our system.
The director is responsible, no matter how many people he (or she) delegates to. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.
The consultants did just what they paid them to do: they turned over some rocks and found some unpleasant truths. And they spoke them, to all our assembled managers. No secrets.
I sat in the front row. And had to listen to a whole laundry list of things these outside experts identified as poison in the heart of the library I love.
Here's what's worse: I agreed.
When they finished, I realized there was only one thing to do.
We gave them a round of applause.
Why? Because if you don't know that the poison is there, you can't draw it out. If you don't know that you've made mistakes, you can't fix them. If you don't see that you need to change, you won't.
Many organizations teach their newcomers NOT to see the inefficiencies in the system. It's called training.
The Douglas County Libraries have changed so rapidly that some of the things we taught our people to do just don't work anymore. That's a disservice to our patrons -- and to our staff.
It wasn't all bad news, of course. Our consultants also trotted out a raft of statistics. Compared to other libraries around the state and the country, we are in the very top percentages for almost all areas of service.
That's a good thing for staff to know. Their decisions, their conscientious labors, have made us a very good library.
We are not yet a great library. To be that, we'll need the courage to confront the way our libraries need to operate TODAY, even if that means a significant shift in our attitudes and our back room practices.
And I have every confidence in our staff that we can, and will, do just that.