This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 2, 1993

June 2, 1993 - finding fiction

Not to disparage the importance of careful planning, but I'm of the opinion that almost every wonderful thing that has ever happened to me was sheer luck.

Take the sixth grade teacher who kindled my abiding interest in Japanese poetry. Take the purely pixilated day I met my wife. Come to think of it, a lot of the people I've met and liked, I met through wildly unlikely circumstances, and I'm thinking here of my cat, who was born under my Airstream trailer in Arizona, 15 years ago, at about 2 in the morning.

Of course, many people will tell you how important it is to have a system to your life. They'll tell you that if you want to meet a certain kind of person, then you should hang out in a certain kind of place. While this approach doesn't guarantee that you'll find precisely what or whom you're looking for, you've at least maximized the odds.

These two perspectives pretty well reflect the two basic orientations of librarianship.

What they stressed to us in library school was the importance of organization. The two main organizational structures imposed on library collections are the Dewey Decimal System (or DDC), and the Library of Congress system (LC). Dewey divided the world into 10 big categories (100s, 200s, 300s, up to 900s), then shoehorned everything into them, with occasionally comical results (18 numbers to the right of the decimal point). Most public libraries use DDC.

The LC system is a lot broader. It uses combinations of letters (AB, PZ, etc.), which provides far more latitude in differentiation of subjects. It also results in shorter call numbers. Most university libraries -- and some large public libraries -- use LC.

But those aren't the two librarian perspectives I'm tracking. While DDC and LC differ about final techniques, they are in perfect agreement about approach: slap a number on it, put it with other books on the same or similar subjects, and keep it all tidy. It's organized. The idea here is that tidy shelves make it easier to find things.

But some studies have shown that as many as 90% of the books people find in libraries they stumbled across ... by accident. Or as we say in the profession, they were "browsing."

So the second approach to library organization, and the second perspective of librarianship, is a belief in serendipity, or what some have called, "digging for worms and finding gold."

This isn't to suggest that people who browse are staggering blindly through the stacks. Usually they browse the newer books, which in most of our libraries are conspicuously displayed somewhere near the front door. And generally speaking, we do try to keep the books in some kind of order -- either by DDC or alphabetically by the author's last name.

So based on the principle -- to which I have dedicated my life -- that if you only have two choices, invent another one, I submit that the real business of librarianship is the Science of Serendipity. Or as another library theorist put it: "For every book, its reader. For every reader, a book."

If you're interested in further probing this exciting frontier of practical philosophy, I invite you to attend a workshop by Reference Librarian Jeff Long, entitled, "Finding Your Favorite Fiction." Jeff will talk about some techniques that will greatly increase the probability of finding something you'll love.

The workshop will be held on June 15, a Tuesday, from 7-8 p.m. at the Philip S. Miller Library. If you're the sort of person who reviles the random, who cannot abide the chaos of chance, or even if you're a risk taker seeking to beat the system, you might want to come down and listen to one of our library pros give you the inside story.

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