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, February 14, 1996

February 14, 1996 - Too Fast?

I've been asked to speak at a national conference called "Computers in Libraries." They gave me this topic: "Are we going too fast for our patrons?"

At first, I thought this was a pretty simple question. I had an unequivocal answer: No. We are not.

On the whole, library users are quick adopters of technology. Oh sure, we've fielded our complaints about the computer catalog as opposed to the good old card catalog. (I believe the main reason folks wax nostalgic about the card catalog was that it was made out of wood. Even if you didn't use it, it LOOKED good. Solid.) Too, there is that segment of the population that looks askance at the CD-ROM workstation -- and always will.

But in general, and especially in Douglas County, our patrons not only keep up with changes in our library automation, they usually urge us to move a little quicker.

For instance, this week, we're bringing up a text-based World Wide Web browser called Lynx. But we've already got people asking us when we'll have fully graphical workstations to display WWW home pages in all their Technicolor splendor. (Next year, probably.)

When we offer full text periodical access, people don't say, "What happened to the Reader's Guide?" They say, "You need more printers -- one at every terminal."

On the other hand, you the patron don't have to use any of this stuff. You can just ask library staff to look it up for you. We don't force it on you, and I know some of you appreciate that.

In other words, "too fast" is a subjective, not an objective judgment. My basic premise is that if the product (some electronic service) is genuinely more convenient than the alternative, then it doesn't seem "too fast." It seems "overdue."

From my perspective, the real problem with library automation isn't that it's too fast -- it's that sometimes it stops altogether. Case in point: Our five year old central computer had two disk drive failures in two months. Each time, we were "down" for two whole days. On the theory that a planned inconvenience is better than an accidental one, we took the system down a third time, on purpose, to swap out all of the rest of the drives. In a week or so, we'll be down again to install more memory -- which peps up the response time.

But then I realized that the real question of "too fast" gets at our whole understanding of time, our culture's relentless and often pointless haste. It may be more than simple nostalgia that makes some of us yearn for the quiet, red leather luster of the Reading Room.

To the extent that libraries feed the frenzy of data-on-demand, and undermine the notion of contemplation -- time to sift, to sort, to comprehend, to make meaningful use of the information -- then yes, maybe we are moving too fast. And maybe that's worth thinking about some more.

If YOU have any thoughts on this, give me a call (688-8752), write me in care of the paper, or e-mail me at jaslarue@earthlink.net. But don't waste time: You've only got about a week to get anything really brilliant to me if I'm going to use it in my talk.

Closing thought: it happens that my altogether beguiling little boy, Perry, will be two years old tomorrow. Now THAT'S too fast.

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