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 4, 2009 - Colorado public libraries share ideas
Once a year, planned about 9 months in advance, the directors of Colorado's public libraries get together for an afternoon, an evening, and a morning to have frank conversations about what's going on in our operations, our communities, and our profession. This confabulation always happens around Memorial Day, when the rates of mountain lodges are cheap. (We hold our meetings on the Western Slope as a convenience to the many geographically isolated libraries who do such good work the other side of the Rockies.)
Most of Colorado's public libraries serve small communities. But big or small, there were some trends:
* rising use. Everywhere in our great state libraries are seeing big jumps in visits, in program attendance, in checkouts, in reference questions, and most particularly, in Internet and public computer use. What's behind this last? People are looking for jobs, and more and more employers require online applications.
* shrinking budgets. Municipal libraries are funded by sales tax -- which is in sharp decline nationwide. District libraries are funded by property taxes, which trail market conditions by enough time to let us forecast significant drops in 2010.
* increasing productivity. Many libraries are adopting self-check and RFID technologies. Those that have already made this move (and Douglas County was the first in the state) report that there is no other way we could have solved the equation of rising use and declining revenue. Those who have not, took note.
* green building. Once upon a time, I'd hoped to build one of the first truly green libraries in the state. Too late! My favorite project is Naturita's straw bale library, whose shrewd general contractor is the library director himself. But there are LEED-certified gold and silver libraries in Steamboat Springs and Durango. Librarians understand sustainable building. And those communities clearly value such investments.
* re-focusing on our core mission. Many of my esteemed Colorado colleagues have reached the same conclusions I have. To stay relevant to the lives of the people we serve, we need to focus on a very clear set of priorities: encouraging the young to get ready to read, promoting authors (more reading!), providing access to well-organized information (whether it be about school research, economic development, or a more personal agenda), and serving as an advocate for both culture and community.
* fundraising and "friends." Given all the above, most libraries are working harder to connect to local supporters. (We shared some tips on grant money.)
* the importance of internal training. Way back in 1991, I asked library staff to name their top priority. They said, "training." So we established an internal training department. Now a lot of libraries are recognizing the importance of building an organization that mobilizes itself toward learning.
I also heard about a lot of fascinating experiments and experiences. For instance, Fort Morgan, out in northeast Colorado, is working intensively with a large immigrant population -- from Somalia, east Africa. The public library in Adams County is doing away with the Dewey Decimal System, and adopting a bookstore-style arrangement of subjects. The folks in Fort Lupton have determined that the single most popular program in their community is ... knitting.
While I take pride in our accomplishments, I'm always eager to see what other librarians have come up with. Often, their twist is a little different than ours.
For instance, we offer our staff a discount at local recreation centers, figuring that such an incentive might keep everyone a little healthier.
By contrast, an enterprising Western Slope library director has secured a discount for librarians at the local liquor store. You never know, in these interesting times, when you might want to keep a notion like that on tap.
LaRue's Views are his own.