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, April 8, 1998

April 8, 1998 - Staff Training

My first real library clerk job paid the whopping sum of eighty-five cents an hour. On my first day, I received about half an hour training from one of the nice older ladies who worked there.

This was a small library, with a card catalog, two tiny bookcases of new materials, and an old "Gaylord" checkout system. Every book had a card. To check it out, I put the patron's library card in the Gaylord machine, then ka-chunked in the book card to stamp it with the due date. Then, later that night, I put all the cards in call number order, and filed them under the day.

Over the course of a year or so, largely through filing the cards every night, I also learned to answer patron questions. I knew the call numbers of books on all the subjects. I knew author names and their books. This went on for four years, and I loved every minute of it.

These days, things are different, and in most respects, better. Today's computer card catalog tells you things the old card catalog didn't -- such as whether or not the book was in and when it was due back. The computer also ended three kinds of filing: cards in the catalog, cards in the patron file, and cards in the daily checkouts.

But the same invention that saved time in some areas has cost time in others. Compared to using paper, it is much faster to use a computer to create patron, books, and circulation (checkout) records. But it is also more complex. Using this information isn't quite like walking over to a particular cabinet to flip through cards. It involves a host of strategies for searching and otherwise manipulating the information in a series of interlocking databases.

So over the past several years, we've been working on developing a high quality staff training program. I just reviewed our current catalog of in-house workshops, and our current new employee orientation process.

Remember that my training consisted of half an hour. Today's DPLD employee goes through five whole days of training. For an entire work week, she starts with a trainer and computer in the morning. Then she goes to a live -- and lively! -- circulation desk, where she works with an assigned "mentor" in the afternoon. This is a big commitment of library time and resources.

But you know what? It works. By the time our new staff make it out on their own (week two), they are functioning at the level it took me almost a year to achieve at my first library job. That means more productive and confident employees. It also means better service.

The Douglas Public Library District encourages its employees to try things they wouldn't be permitted to do at other libraries, at least not without getting various educational credentials first. Our approach helps us keep staff interest high. It also brings a continuous freshness to our activities.

Some of our people that do have more formal credentials have developed in-house programs that, for instance, teach our staff reference skills, model high quality story times, give tours of our behind-the-scenes work, and otherwise share information and insight.

These days, our library is not only the People's University -- a place where any member of the public may seek self-education. It is also a Staff University, where any curious employee can explore the library environment, and find their special talents.

Both of these sure make for an interesting place to work.

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