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.
March 11, 2010 - it was 20 years ago today
"It was 20 years ago today
Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play."
I have now held my position as director of Douglas County's libraries for 20 years. It was a different world back then.
The population of Douglas County in 1990 was about 65,000. We checked out 368,492 items a year. Today, we have close to 300,000 people, and check out nearly 8 million items annually.
At the time that I was hired, we were a county department. We were also ranked as one of the worst libraries in the state by almost any measure. There was no library in Highlands Ranch. There were no children's departments, and very few story times. We were open five days a week. It looked like the next year, we were going to go down to four.
The one hope was to establish an independent library district, with its own dedicated mill levy. I was hired to help make that case, which I set about doing. We won that election by 66 percent.
We went back to the voters again in 1996, citing the need for new libraries in Highlands Ranch, Parker, Lone Tree and Roxborough. We won that one, too, although much more narrowly. (That was also the year we launched the first website in Douglas County.)
When we came back to the voters 11 and 12 years later, we were ranked the number one library in the country. And lost both elections. Apparently, shame (we're the worst!) is a stronger motivator than pride (we're the best!). Who knew? (Of course, there were other factors. I think.)
Recently I visited a library back east that was gorgeous -- over 110,000 square feet on four levels. It checked out a million items a year. But our Lone Tree Library does 1.3 million items a year. It's only 10,000 square feet. Our self-check and return systems, our displays, the number and quality of our story times, our reference outreach services, our public programs, are all at the cutting edge of librarianship.
So as I approach my annual evaluation, at my 20th year on the job, I find myself in a reflective mood. In addition to all of the above, there are some things I am particularly grateful for:
* my board. The Library Board of Trustees, currently comprising Barbara Dash, Demetria Heath, Amy Hunt, Bob McLaughlin, David Starck, Mark Weston, and until recently Stevan Strain, is the only public body in Douglas County with job descriptions and an annual evaluation. These savvy, thoughtful, well-connected people provide wise governance and sharp financial overview. They also hold themselves to the same high standards they set for the library - a remarkably rare thing.
* my staff. The people I directly supervise - David Farnan, Art Glover, Rochelle Logan, Monique Sendze, Mary Tweden, and Aspen Walker - are some of the finest minds and spirits I know. Our branch managers - Dorothy Hargrove, Sheila Kerber, Sharon Lauchner, and Sharon Nemechek - are not just highly competent professionals, they are true civic leaders. All of our people, from facilities to PC techs, to catalogers, to shelvers, are driven by the same ethic of extraordinary service.
* my job. I didn't know what I was getting into 20 years ago. (Does anyone?) But I have learned that the role of the public library - a passionate advocate for literacy and lifelong learning, a changer of lives, a builder of community - is important. When connected to the many other components of community - a thriving business environment, a solid civic infrastructure, a culture that orients itself to the future - the public library helps create a high quality of life. We DO change lives, and for the better. We DO build community.
That's not a bad thing to give 20 years to. The next few years will be a little different. But I'll talk about that next week.
LaRue's Views are his own.