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 28, 2007 - What is the Job of Today's Reference Librarian?
Back at the end of March, I wrote about something I was calling "community reference." The idea was as radical as it is obvious: people with questions may not think to ask a librarian, so the library needs to send the librarians to the people.
Sometimes, those questions are big -- so big that whole neighborhoods or municipalities wrestle with them. Here's an example: how do you build and sustain a vibrant "downtown?"
That question, that conversation, that intersection of private and public interests, is happening everywhere in the county: the Town of Castle Rock, the Town of Parker, the City of Lone Tree, the unincorporated area of Highlands Ranch.
I mentioned in my previous article that we were working with a group of town planners and local business people in Parker. They wanted to understand regional and historic architectural styles. They wanted to share information about planning maps. They were looking for images that allowed people to understand what other proposals might look like: trails to explore local history, locations for new signage.
So we sent some librarians to their meetings. We met separately with some of the key players to interview them. And lo and behold -- they had precisely the sorts of questions that librarians are trained to answer.
Well, we did our research, and then ran across a new twist. Librarians have always answered short questions quickly. For longer things, often, we get people started with some resources, then check back with those people to see how they're coming along.
But for this particular community project, that wouldn't work. We had to figure out a way to communicate that research back to the group.
What we came up with is, I think, a template for similar projects.
First, one of our reference librarians, Colbe Galston, delivered the library's original Power Point presentation on "turn of the century Colorado architecture." Then, we took a whole host of informative material, much of it produced by people outside the library, and put it up on a project web page we call an iGuide. (Many thanks to Contact Center Librarian Don Dickenson, who structured and formatted the content.)
That page can be found at douglascountylibraries.org/Research%20Tools/infoguide.php. (Or if you're just navigating your way through, start at our main page, then click on the Research Tools tab, then the iGuides choice on the left side of the page, and finally, scroll down to Parker Downtown Development.)
What you'll find there is pretty interesting -- the collective memory of a community, the collaborative effort of the public and private sector. It's also a terrific starting point for other communities interested in what kind of issues matter in the creation or redevelopment of a downtown.
You might also browse some of those other iGuides. They represent a new kind of reference service: "pre-packaging" of information to address topics of local interest. You could probably piece much of this information together yourself, but the iGuide saves you the trouble. We link to things we know are of value -- items in our physical collection, articles in the electronic journals we subscribe to, related websites, and many other things that might never have occurred to you.
So what's the job of today's reference librarian? There are several:
* to respond to your questions when you contact us at the library, as we have always done
* to be alert to key community issues and questions, and to dive into the meetings outside the library where they are being discussed
* to help figure out just what the real questions might be
* to provide solid, authoritative information in response to those questions
* to deliver answers back to our community in a variety of formats, up to and including executive summaries, presentations, and virtual resources available 24/7
* and finally, to archive those presentations and resources, and thereby provide a way for a community to acknowledge and understand its own emerging identity.
This wasn't the kind of librarianship being taught when I went to school. But Douglas County, today, is a complex place. It deserves a library that knows how to help.