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 22, 2006 - Staff and Volunteers Make Cutting Edge Library
We did it. We weren't the first library in the state -- La Junta and Windsor were ahead of us, and more power to these small town pioneers! But we're the first Colorado library with more than one branch to do it.
What did we do? We put a new system in place to manage a big part of our work. We touched every one of our over 650,000 items to put an RFID (Radio Frequency ID) tag on them.
These tags allow about 90% of our check-outs to be handled quickly and easily by the public itself. And that frees up our staff to help with the really important part of the transaction: FINDING the thing to be checked out.
Library self-check isn't even as hard as the grocery store self-check. There's no search for the barcode, or repeated sweeps of the item.
You just scan your library card, then set your items on the pad. A screen lists the items, and you touch a button to get a receipt.
Our incomparable staff moved like lightning through our bookstacks, ably assisted by our many, many, highly competent and frankly fascinated volunteers. At one point, we were scanning over 28,000 items a day.
Now, except for the items checked out during our blitz through the stacks, our entire collection has been converted.
And it's a good thing. We just kicked off our summer reading program, and business is jumping.
Here's the plain truth: if we hadn't invested in a radical redesign of the way we do things, we'd be in a lot of trouble. Before our conversion, we were facing backlogs in the backroom. Those are gone.
Other libraries have taken notice. They will be following us.
I consider myself very fortunate to live in a community whose library use is some 3 times greater (on a per capita basis) than the national average.
Some folks have told me that's because Douglas County is wealthy -- among the richest in the nation.
Well, per capita income in Douglas County IS relatively high. But our library funding is not the highest in the nation -- or even the state.
Besides, it's not just about money. Yes, our patrons tend to come from families where education is highly valued. Yes, most of those families also have statistically rare access to technology (home computers, broadband Internet access, DVD and mp3 players).
But all of that means the residents of Douglas County have choices. And what do they choose?
To go to the library!
RFID and self-check will not, by themselves, enable us to build or open more libraries. Right now, we don't have the resources to do that -- even though we need new or larger libraries in at least three areas of the county.
But when we do find a way to open new libraries, we'll be able to run them more intelligently and less expensively.
To our staff and volunteers, many, many thanks on your work to keep us at the high performance cutting edge of library operations.