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, December 29, 1999

December 29, 1999 - Libraries and The Millennium

Welcome to my last library column of the millennium. (I know, some people think that won't happen until the last day of December, 2000. Spoilsports.)

It happens that the idea of libraries stretches back quite a ways. The printed word has been around for about 5,500 years. The oldest library was probably that of the ancient city of Nippur, where the Sumerians stored over 30,000 clay tablets.

Although papyrus libraries were extant before 1,000 B.C., probably the most famous ancient library was that of Alexandria, Egypt (around 330 B.C.). It was believed to have a copy of every existing papyrus scroll then "in print" -- about 400,000. Nobody knows what happened to it.

The Romans established a number of libraries. In A.D. 337, a survey of important Roman buildings identified 28 libraries. Most of them are gone, too. The exception is the collection of a Roman nobleman named Piso, who lived at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. There, his library lay buried in volcanic ash from about A.D. 79 to the 1750ís, when its 1,800 ancient scrolls were uncovered.

Then next big writing format was leather. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest manuscripts of the Bible, were written on animal skins, somewhere between 150 B.C. to A.D. 68.

But now let's skip from the beginning of the millennium, to the end.

As of the end of this century, there are over 33,000 libraries in the United States. About 15,000 of those are public libraries (the rest are school, academic, and corporate libraries). If you live in Douglas County, you have access to over 340,000 library materials -- which doesn't compare too badly with Alexandria. Moreover, through our many arrangements with other libraries -- Interlibrary Loan agreements, and the Colorado Library Card, for instance -- you can lay your hands on many millions more.

Print in new formats continues. While we no longer collect print on clay tablets, papyrus, or animal skins (or, for that matter, 75 rpm records, 8 mm movies or 8 track tapes), we do have books on tape, books on CD, and print in the breakthrough technology of the World Wide Web. Print in the traditional form of paper, however, remains by far our largest inventory, and accounts for the greatest percentage of our use.

We also have a dedicated readership. I recently conducted a survey of Colorado libraries to see how their "business" of checking out materials compares with last year. Here's the chart, listing the library, then the percent change from last year:

Arapahoe, 9%
Buena Vista, -3%
Cortez, -14%
Fort Collins, 8.4%
Garfield, 4%
Lafayette, 5.9%
Longmont, 6%
Mesa County, 1%
Montrose, 8.2%
Pueblo, 6.4%
Westminster, 14%

The average change was 5.1%. Circulation use at the Douglas Public Library District jumped by 19.2% -- making us far and away the leader statewide.

But there's more to libraries than checking out books. In every area of modern day librarianship -- the offering of reference services, the provision of high quality children's programs, the instruction of the public in electronic resources, to name just a few -- we have seen extraordinary leaps in demand and use.

I believe that the key skill in the next millennium will be the ability to search, organize, and form critical judgments about information. These are precisely the skills of librarianship.

We'll see you in another thousand years.

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