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 3, 2005 - Libraries Are Going Global
Recently, I was elected to something called the OCLC Membership Council. OCLC is a company that has been around for over 30 years, since the dawn of library automation.
Nonetheless, OCLC is a little hard to define. It is...
* A world-wide libary catalog. OCLC is used by librarians in 109 countries to describe over a billion books, music and film recordings, theses, photographs, and other documents.
* A purveyor of "e-books." These are electronic texts, readable, searchable, and even downloadable to your PC or handheld. OCLC, through something called netLibrary (and available through our website at www.douglascountylibraries.org) now boasts over 100,000 titles -- about the stock of Cherry Creek's Tattered Cover store or a medium sized public library.
* A supplier of various professional tools for librarians. For instance, librarians might pay for a service to compare local holdings to those of another library, and thereby discover "holes" in various subjects.
* The developer of various new tools for library staff and users. OCLC recently answered its 1 millionth online reference question. That's a service that puts a real librarian online, 24/7. (We use a similar service, although not from OCLC.)
* A researcher. At the OCLC meeting I just attended, I saw presentations concerning attitudes about libraries by savvy computer users around the world. (And I learned that even technically savvy users still aren't aware of all kinds of library services available locally.) I also saw an analysis of the five big libraries recently targeted for "digitization" (copying from print to electronic image) by Google.
* A "collaborative." That's library jargon for "people, sharing." There is a pooling of information, expertise, and materials among members.
* A for-profit company trying to solve a puzzle: how to grow from a national to an international company.
In Colorado, OCLC services are brokered -- along with various other services -- by yet another company, BCR. OCLC services are also sold in those 109 countries around the world.
On the one hand, national sales are flat. International sales are growing.
On the other hand, the base of sales is some 6-8 times greater in the U.S.
It's a conundrum. Is ANY company truly local these days? Look at the labels of your clothing. Consider the origin of any piece of equipment you use, from computers to car parts.
I'd read a great deal about companies moving off shore to take advantage of cheaper labor, and I've wondered about the effect of all that. But if other countries can sell to us, surely we can sell to them.
Many of our speakers were from other lands. They talked about a dual truth: many people turn their backs when they see an American passport. On the other hand, libraries are credible, neutral, even in other countries.
Most of our speakers agreed that there may be no one right way to do business globally. It takes local knowledge, cultural sensitivity, and a far greater familiarity with multiple languages than is possessed by most Americans.
OCLC has made extraordinary progress in establishing a planetary library catalog -- of materials using the Roman alphabet. But that just scratches the surface of humanity's works.
Can OCLC live up to the promise of one of its premier products, WorldCat? It will take some doing. But I like the idea of libraries being at the forefront of international bridge-building.