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.
February 8, 2007 - Call the Douglas County Libraries
One of the things you grapple with as you get older is this curious contradiction: there are a lot of good, smart, conscientious people in the world, who just can't seem to get simple things right.
I could illustrate this principle with many examples from my own life. But let's pick on the phone company.
For many years, our libraries have had their own phone numbers. Because of the way Qwest sliced up the various phone books (Castle Rock/Parker, South Metro, etc.), it was almost impossible to get all of our listings and locations in one book.
Every year, we would very carefully detail all of our libraries and their phone numbers. We would ask for a complete listing. We would be told that that would cost us extra. We would agree. We would ask to proof the final listings, and sometimes did get that proof, which we would edit, and resubmit.
And year after year, the phone listings would be maddeningly incomplete or misleading.
Part of me gets this. There are millions of phone numbers, and more ways for things to go wrong than to go right. But it was not only frustrating and expensive, it also contradicted the whole point of the phone book: to tell people how to reach us on the phone.
Technology proceeds apace, however, and one of those technologies is Voice Over IP. VOIP combines data and telephony on the same lines. It also makes it easier to aggregate phone lines, making it much easier to switch from one place to another.
At about the same time, the library was engaged in a deep job analysis. When the demand for your services is growing faster than your revenue, you look for ways to become more efficient.
Over the years, we'd wound up with a lot of phones around the district. And where there's a phone, there's a desk. And where there's a desk, somehow somebody winds up being assigned to it. But waiting for a phone to ring isn't the best way to provide service.
So we hit on a solution: publish just one phone line for the whole library district. One number that shows up in every phone book. One switchboard that is manned by multiple staff. One place where 90% of people's questions can be answered -- or quickly switched to somewhere else if it's more complicated.
So that's what we did.
Here's the number: 303-791-READ. Or for those people who, like me, find that hunting down the numbers behind the letters puts a strain on the brain, it's 303-791-7323. This is now the main contact number for the Douglas County Libraries.
We're still tweaking it. Right now, we're in the process of getting the right number of incoming phone lines, so that people don't get busy signals. Until now, there was no easy way to calculate exactly what the load was. Now there is, and we've got to juggle the phone system to handle it. That will take us a couple of weeks.
But finally, what does that mean for the average person? It means that when you actually step into a library, you'll get prompt personal service, rather than a brief transaction crammed between two phone calls.
On the phone, there will probably be two results: a direct switchover to our automated renewal service (which will run 24/7, and seems to account for a big chunk of our calls), and a live human being -- someone actually dedicated to the call, with the time to help you -- who can answer your questions.
We look forward to hearing from you!