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.
June 1, 2006 - Douglas County Libraries are World Class
About a year ago, I let myself get talked into running for office.
This wasn't a political thing, not really. I ran to represent a regional library network to a much larger international body called "OCLC Membership Council."
OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) is a non-profit organization that sells various technical products and services to libraries around the world. Its flagship product is something called WorldCat -- a database of the cataloged items of all its members. We're talking billions of records.
I have now completed the first year of my 3 year term. Although the first two meetings were a little confusing (66 delegates? membership formula? the membership council versus the board of directors?) I think I've gotten most of it sorted out now.
It's been fascinating in several respects.
* International librarianship. I've heard presentations on libraries in South Africa, Singapore, mainland China, Germany, Malaysia, and others. I've had the chance to talk with these folks over coffee and dinner later.
* New products. OCLC uses our council as a focus group for new ideas. I've seen presentations on something called FRBR -- a formatting protocol through which big bodies of data are grouped to make them more understandable. I've seen utilities to automatically download and provide first pass cataloging from html, pdf, and doc files from the web. Data are getting smarter, and working harder.
* New research. OCLC does a lot of market research, which it shares widely with the profession. Recently, OCLC investigated perceptions of the library by online users. It has done other widely cited environmental scans.
* Partnership opportunities. In the trip just past, we learned a lot about museums. Libraries should be doing more with them.
* Travel. OCLC flies the delegates out to its headquarters. And where is that? Dublin!
That would be Dublin, Ohio, just northwest of Columbus. But I was born and raised in the midwest, and I find the trips very enjoyable, even nostalgic.
* The competition. School libraries are very poorly represented in our member council. I'm not sure I've figured out why. It's clear that west of the Mississippi in particular, school libraries are in a lot of trouble.
Even in Colorado, a recent study by the Library Research Center of the Colorado State Library shows that the average book in a school libraries is now 15 years old!
That means our school library books don't cover Bill Clinton's election to the presidency in 1992, the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, Nelson Mandela's inauguration as South Africa's first black president in 1994, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the Columbine shooting, our invasion of Iraq, and more. It's a disgrace.
Most of the librarians on the council represent academic institutions. They tell me one of their big trends is the declining use of books and the increasing use of databases.
In public libraries, it's almost the opposite. For the more progressive libraries, books are flying out the door -- but nobody is using the databases. We're working on that issue locally, too.
But I did have the chance to compare notes with a handful of other public libraries, some of the leaders in the world. Douglas County Libraries stacks up pretty well.
We are seen as innovative. But as I pointed out to several people, that's not WHY we do what we do (our RFID conversion, our use of GIS data for long range planning, our hiring practices, etc.). Innovative is a means for us, not an end.
While change is certainly inevitable, I don't believe in change for its own sake. I believe in purposeful change, change that gets you closer to where you actually want to be.
But the good news is, our own local talent and thinking have made us one of the more forward thinking institutions on the globe. The rest of the world has a ways to go to catch up.