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 29, 2006 - Successful Libraries Offer Mix of Services
There's a common misconception about libraries.
In brief, a lot of politicians seem to think that technology competes against
libraries -- and that libraries are losing.
This is something former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin called the
"Displacive Fallacy." It's the idea that new technologies drive out old.
But the truth is, they often coexist quite comfortably. TV didn't kill radio.
DVDs didn't kill movies. Both radio and movies make far more money than they
The Internet didn't kill books. And public libraries are doing quite well,
A friend of mine, Dr. Keith Curry Lance, is the director of the Library
Research Service, based right here in Colorado. He's a professional
number-cruncher, a guy who tries to use data to get at the truth of things in
The Library Research Service (www.lrs.org) regularly produces something it
calls Fast Facts: quick surveys or statistical analyses on hot topics. In
this case, the topic was "what's the relationship between number of public
Internet terminals in the library, and other use statistics?"
To put it another way, when you add public Internet stations, how does this
affect such traditional measurements of library activity as visits (tabulated
by gate counts), circulation (number of items actually checked out), and
questions asked of our reference librarians?
Talk to politicians in some cities, and they'll say visits may go up --
because people are coming in to use those Internet stations -- but people
won't be checking things out, and they sure won't be asking reference
questions. They'll be looking up things for themselves.
Well, that's wrong.
Lance went back to the last year for which there was complete national data
(2003) and compared those four statistics: number of public computers,
visits, circulation, and reference questions.
The story is pretty clear: the more computers, the more activity of all kinds.
Lance concludes that the strongest connection is indeed between computers and
visits. But statistically speaking, all of them are at least moderately
The presence of computers certainly did not reduce the number of checkouts or
reference questions. Or as Lance writes, "Traditional and Internet-based
library services are not an either-or proposition."
The report is careful to point out that adding computers is not a direct cause
of other increased use. It may well be that libraries doing things right in
the area of choosing materials for checkout, and hiring competent reference
librarians, are also doing the right thing when they add public computers.
Public libraries have stepped into the role of "closing the digital divide" --
providing public access to the Internet, even in the poorest communities.
That's a good thing.
But it's clear that it's not the only thing that's good, or the only thing
that people want. Today's public libraries are successful precisely when they
strike a balance, offering a mix of services.
Public libraries must offer public access not only to the cutting edge
technologies of tomorrow, but also to the organized evidence of the past, and
the vital community energy of the present.
And mostly, they do.