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.
May 1, 2006 - Libraries Will Close to Convert
The public sector is not the same as the private. In business, if you move more products, you get more money. In libraries, it doesn't work like that.
We recently took a look at the last five years of one of our main activities: checking out library materials (books, DVDs, CDs, VHS and audiotapes, magazines, etc.). And in the past five years, our business has grown by 124%.
But our money doesn't come from that activity. The revenue of the Douglas County Libraries comes mainly from property taxes. The good news is, the county has grown. But our business has grown way faster than our revenues.
I've written recently about a deep retooling of your public library. To try to keep up with our demand, we've been exploring ways to shift some of the more mechanical work over to computers. So we've rolled out self-checkout stations at our libraries.
Here's the good news: within our first week, most of our libraries reported that 85-90% of our checkouts were going through the new system. Our people were, and are, still around to assist, but for the vast majority of our transactions, no assistance was necessary.
That would seem to have freed up a lot of labor, right? But it didn't, really. Because we were still looking at a 20-30% increase in business -- and we still had to check everything back in. And in some of our libraries, we're just about out of space.
So that pushed us to the next step. To use our technology to handle both sides of the checkout process, we needed to replace our old barcodes with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. We opened our Roxborough Library using this technology, and it works.
So since January, we've been adding these tags to every item we own.
We ran into problems. It is NOT a time-saving process to run two systems side by side, not knowing in advance whether an item may have had the RFID tag attached.
Remember, items are coming in and going out all the time. This is much like trying to change a flat tire on a bicycle -- while you're riding it.
So we started to run into backlogs. In a time of rapid business growth, you do not need backlogs.
I thought about this for awhile, consulted my many advisors, and finally took a proposal to the Library Board of Trustees. In brief, I asked for permission to close the Parker Library for one week, from May 16-22. Then, from May 24-May 31, we would close the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock.
They have granted that permission.
Some services will continue. Of course, all of our other branches are still open, and you're encouraged to visit them. You can still call Parker and Philip S. Miller with reference or checkout questions. Even during the closings at these two libraries, you'll still be able to return items, pick up holds, and attend most the meetings you may have scheduled (check at your branch if you have questions). Meanwhile, we'll have teams of staff and volunteers moving through the stacks, just pounding away at the conversion process till we're done. (It's not too late to sign up to help!)
Our library faces two choices: stretch out the conversion to a new system through October, facing daily jam-ups of work, or focus on the conversion, get it done, and use the technology we've tested to help us keep up.
I apologize in advance for the inconvenience of these closures -- but I do believe it's less inconvenient than the alternative.
By the bye, as problems go, this is a good one. Douglas County patrons really use their libraries.
And even though we don't make money on these literally millions of checkouts, we do try to do what any thoughtful business would do: invest enough back into the operation to make sure we're running as efficiently as possible.