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, September 11, 1996

September 11, 1996 - Reference Collections

No matter who you are, there are things you don't know. Ignorance is a defining element of the human condition.

Still, most of us aren't satisfied with that. We seek knowledge. But where?

Before you go to school, you believe that the best source of the truth is your mom or dad.

In elementary school, you think that your teacher has the authoritative answer.

By the time you get to middle and high school, you're sure that your more experienced peers are the only ones you can trust.

In your freshman year in college you become convinced that you, only you, can be utterly relied upon for the Truth. And you will never think so again.

I quote Oscar Wilde, who said, "I am not young enough to know everything." I paraphrase Mark Twain (I'm working from memory here): "At the age of 18, I left home, largely because of my father's insufferable ignorance. When I returned at the age of 22, I was impressed by how much he'd learned in 4 years."

Back in library school, I learned that most folks, when they have a question about something (what kind of car to buy, what politician is the more nearly believable, what to do for an ailment, etc.), have a predictable pattern of consultation.

First, they talk to their immediate family: their spouses, their parents, their kin.

Next, they talk to their friends.

Next, they talk to their business associates.

Then, and only then, they turn to experts. They take the car to the shop. They put their conscience in the hands of their party. They actually visit a doctor.

WAY down on this decision tree is your humble librarian.

Now why is this? After all, information is our business.

Well, there's convenience. You're more likely to see a family member, friend or business associate than you are to make a special effort to contact the library. People don't change their habits easily.

Please understand that I'm not casting aspersions on the knowledgeability of your social circle. I'm sure they're all very well-informed.

I am just suggesting that you might give a little more thought to your local library. It happens that we have a reference librarian on call every hour the library is open (try 688-8721). Behind these librarians is a fairly impressive array of resources.

Trust me: two calls a year (if, for instance, you make two big purchases a year of almost any major consumer item) can save you literally thousands of dollars.

Did I mention that you've already paid for this service?

The Douglas Public Library District dedicates almost $50,000 every year to reference materials. We buy encyclopedias. We buy almanacs. We buy statistical compilations. We buy consumer guides of several descriptions. We buy numerous specialized resources: pamphlets, annual reports, abstracts, indexes, guides, and much more.

Another (roughly) $40,000 goes to magazine subscriptions and indexes, both paper and electronic.

What are the odds that your friends or associates have assembled a similarly up-to-date gathering of data? (Even if they have, I'd be willing to bet that our stuff is better organized.)

As I say, the Douglas Public Library District has a good, solid reference collection. But there are limitations.

This collection is not available at every library in the county. Our largest collection is at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. The second is at Parker. While our Oakes Mill Library is too small to house much of anything, its staff is very savvy about online resources. (We could use more electronic resources, too. There are many more of them this year than last.)

Our Highlands Ranch Library has just begun to build its reference collection. It's already clear that it needs to concentrate on business materials. The area has a surprisingly high percentage of home-based businesses.

Our limitations are getting clearer. The children we serve so well, the popular fiction readers who can reliably find all the bestsellers on our shelves (or within our collection), have begun not only to demand more sophisticated resources from the library, but also to seek greater depth and readier access throughout the county.

If the library district is to meet this new challenge, we must either duplicate core resources among all our libraries, or build up strong new collections in the right subject areas, at the right locations. Either choice is expensive. Both may be necessary.

The question is, which is cheaper in the long run: knowledge ... or ignorance?

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