On Friday, August 22, all Douglas Public Library District Libraries will be closed. This will be our fifth annual Staff Day.
Why is it necessary to close the whole library district? Mainly because this is the only way we can get our 150 employees or so into the same room at the same time. Once a year, an "all staff" assembly helps to re-center us on the things we must have in common if we are to survive as a responsive public institution.
In general, the library is a very decentralized operation. Each library location has its own unique collection. (At least 12 percent of that collection is the result of direct patron requests for purchase.) Each library divides staff responsibilities according to its needs and the talents of various staff members. The hope behind such a structure is that the branch will be more tightly focused on its own community. Castle Rock is not like Parker, which is not like Highlands Ranch, which is not like the service populations of Acres Green and Lone Tree, which is not like Louviers. The libraries should reflect those differences. And they do.
But most important in this conscious decentralization is the idea that at the moment of truth -- an encounter between a member of the public and the member of our staff -- the staff member has the knowledge and the authority to do the right thing. The "right thing" means "to provide the best possible service." She shouldn't have to scurry behind an imposing desk because she doesn't quite know what to do. She shouldn't have to fumble around for permission from some distant supervisor. On behalf of the patron, she should be able to act, and know that the library values her knowledge, her initiative, and her creativity.
At our first Staff Day, the library highlighted the need for more intensive instruction in our computer systems. That instruction is now a key part of each new employee's orientation. Last year's Staff Day focused on employee reports on a handful of key long range planning issues (personnel, collection, new services, automation, and information needs about the environment in which we operate). Those reports have marked a trail for many changes in the way we do, or will do, business.
Most of our Staff Days have featured a keynote address from someone prominent in the library world. This year is a little different. This year I see that instead of bringing in people to teach us, we're teaching ourselves. The focus of the many workshops throughout the day is to strengthen the lines of communication among people who do similar work at different locations within the district. Thus we have people who provide story times getting together to compare notes. We have people interested in providing public programming to seniors or to young adults, sitting down to brainstorm ideas and share past experiences.
We have presentations by our people on what reference service really looks like at the front desk, and how new materials are ordered and processed. Staff members will have a chance to talk with members of our Board of Trustees, and with the architect of our new Oakes Mill Library (slated to open in the Spring of 1998).
I apologize for any inconvenience for those folks who had hoped to go to the library on the 22nd. But I do believe that this withdrawal of service for one day is an investment in better service for all the days to come. The library will be open as usual on Saturday.
Thanks for your understanding.